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Deadly Explosion at Egypt's Christian Coptic Church; Tillerson and Lavrov Discuss Situation in Syria; U.S. Carrier Strike Group Headed Toward Korean Peninsula; Surveillance Video Shows Deadly Stockholm Assault. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired April 9, 2017 - 05:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:00:58] HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers around the world and in the United States. I'm Hala Gorani. We're coming to you live from Beirut, Lebanon. And we have some breaking news to bring you out of Egypt.

Egyptian media are saying that there has been an explosion in a Christian Coptic Church in the northern part of the country in Tanta. And state media are reporting that the death toll there has risen to 15 people killed. Dozens have been wounded. We still have details coming into us.

A very significant day, of course, today is Palm Sunday. And Ben Wedeman is at the Turkish-Syrian border. He's covered Egypt for many years. He was our Cairo bureau chief and we were discussing, Ben, a little bit earlier that this comes also weeks before -- as we show our viewers, by the way, this is video I'm seeing for the first time, aftermath of that explosion in Tanta, Egypt. Chaos there among worshippers and we're seeing some people apparently hurt or killed there as well on the ground.

There is an important visit by the Pope as well planned in a few weeks.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The Mar Girgis Church in Tanta, which is about 100 kilometers north of Cairo, was packed with worshippers when this bomb went off. I've seen reports that the bomb was in the front row of that church.

Now, as you mentioned, the death toll stands at 15, more than 40 people wounded, but it is believed that that death toll will increase as the day goes on. And this is, yes, just the latest attack on the Christians of Egypt. In December there was the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Cairo known as "El Butrusiya." In that case at least 25 people were killed and, of course, in February there were attacks on Christians in the town of El Arish in the northern Sinai. Many of them fled the city as a result.

And, yes, as you mentioned, Pope Francis is coming for his first visit to Egypt at the end of April. He's coming to see a flock that has been seen -- its security situation deteriorate dramatically in recent years. Now when Abdel Fattah al-Sisi became president of Egypt following the summer of 2013 when Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown, many Christians felt that they -- he was their savior, that he was going to protect them and increase security.

But we've seen a series of attacks on Christians since then. And many of Egypt's Coptic Christians increasingly feel that the government simply has not done enough to protect them and today we saw the result of that -- Hala.

GORANI: And we were mentioning, of course, the significance of today, not just Sunday, Palm Sunday as well. The last attack in December on a chapel joining an important church or cathedral in Cairo also happening on a Sunday. This is maximum terror, maximum impact against the Christian community in Egypt, and we were discussing as well, Ben, there is a lot of frustration among them now that they're not being protected adequately enough, that they know they're a target and yet these bomb attacks keep happening.

WEDEMAN: And I think part of the problem is that the security provided to the Christians, to their churches, to their community centers simply is inadequate. You've seen it, I've seen it, that the security forces that are assigned to this job tend to be substandard. They're poorly paid, poorly trained conscripts who simply don't have the wherewithal to provide the necessary protection.

Egyptian intelligence at times can be very good, but clearly this is not their focus, that at the moment, of course, the Egyptian security forces are dealing with this low-level insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.

[05:05:04] And they're not doing a very good job by all accounts, that for instance recently there were pictures taken of members of Wilayat Sina, which is basically the ISIS affiliate in Sinai, were running checkpoints in the city of El Arish itself.

And so the Egyptian regime clearly is not being very -- been very successful in dealing with that insurgency and is clearly not being very successful in dealing with this wave of attacks on Christians. And it's not just Christians. In fact, we understand that on the 1st of April there was an attack on a police station in Tanta, the same city where 13 conscripts were injured.

We understand there's been a second explosion in Tanta today, on a training center, a police training center. So you have this low-level insurgency focusing on Christians, but also on the government itself -- Hala.

GORANI: Well, certainly it's a message also directed at the government. And by the way, while you were speaking, Ben, we were getting new images in from a state television network of the aftermath of that attack, and we were discussing earlier as well, there was some sort of live broadcasts going on during the -- that went dark as the explosives went off killing so many people and you're seeing there people gathered, what looks like the exit or the entrance of the church.

There's at least one individual on the ground, not sure if that person lost his or her life or whether they're injured. But dozens of people injured and as so often the case, Ben, this death toll will likely rise as well, sadly there as we continue to follow this breaking news story out of Egypt.

You were mentioning Tanta as an industrial town and that there are attacks as well against the security and army infrastructure there as well. Talk to us about that area in Egypt, what is it like there, what kind of insurgent militant activity happens there on a regular basis.

WEDEMAN: Yes. Tanta is in the Nile Delta, it's a very populous city. I'm not quite sure what the population is. But yes, you have -- I mean, recently there have been these attacks, like I said on the 1st of April there was the attack on the police station. We understand there has been another attack this morning, a bomb -- I mean, on this police training center. But Tanta is not the only place that has experienced this kind of attack.

Cairo has seen them, upper Egypt has seen attacks as well. And particularly the Sinai. So really it's across the country. Just happens that recently the attacks have been in Sinai. And it's not necessarily ISIS. You have to remember there are also other groups like Gama'ah al-Islamiyah, the Islamic group that waged an urban war against the Egyptian government during the '80s and the '90s.

You have a variety of radical Islamist groups that have a long history of violent action against the government, in the Delta, Upper Egypt, Cairo and elsewhere. So it's a massive problem that the Egyptian government isn't dealing with very well -- Hala.

GORANI: Well, and stand by, Ben, Fawaz Gerges is in London. He is a professor at the London School of Economics and also the author of "ISIS: A History."

Fawaz, as we watch these pictures unfold, sadly they are familiar in a country like Egypt, the latest attack was in December, but these insurgencies, these militants are also targeting the security, the military infrastructure of the military government of Abdel Fattah al- Sisi. You know, Christians and understandably so are saying you're not protecting us. We keep getting killed by these militants that you're waging this low-level war with.

FAWAZ GERGES, AUTHOR, "ISIS: A HISTORY": And you're absolutely correct, Hala. I mean, these attacks are really strategic attacks against soft target, that target the very foundation of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. They expose the inability of the former general who toppled Mohamed Morsi, the first elected president in modern Egyptian history was a Muslim Brotherhood, exposed its inability to secure the country, try to sow sectarian tensions.

As you have suggested, there have been some sectarian tensions. And the Copts in Egypt who represent about 10 percent of the population, the population of Egypt is 92 million people, feel extremely vulnerable. They don't feel that the government provides enough security. And also as you have suggested, Hala, you have a potent low-level insurgency in the northern part of Sinai. It has targeted not only the Copts, it has targeted the security forces, civilians, foreign national, hundreds of people have been killed and the strategic goal of the -- this particular low-level insurgency is to really wage economic warfare.

[05:10:12] I mean, what has happened in Egypt and people don't talk about it, the tourism industry has been decimated. The Abdel Fattah al-Sisi administration faces serious economic and social problems as a result of the instability and the insurgency itself. So this is a strategic attack.


GERGES: Not only against the Copt, it's against the very foundation of al-Sisi administration.

GORANI: And Fawaz, as we continue to watch this video, we're playing it in a loop, this is some of the -- these are some of the images coming to us from Tanta, this is the aftermath, it is chaotic, people just stunned and once again feeling extremely vulnerable as one of their -- as the churches or cathedrals or chapels targeted by the militants.

But Fawaz, I want to ask you, overall, about Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, because it's not just those attacks on the Christian minority in Egypt, not even just the attacks on security services and the military, but also major, major issues with an economy that is crumbling, with a Sunni population that is feeling frustrated, with the militant insurgency as well in certain parts of the country. I mean, this is a country with an exploding population of more than 90 million people, that's having more and more problems keeping explosive sort of discontent at bay here, Fawaz.

GERGES: Yes. I fear that President al-Sisi faces fundamental challenges. Poverty in Egypt, Hala, is about 42 percent. That is out of the 92 million people we have 40 percent live on $2 a day or some on less than $2 a day. Unemployment among the semi-educated youth is about 30 percent and some would say 40 percent.

The country is deeply polarized. You have thousands of activists and religious activists who are in prison. You have a potent insurgency in northern Sinai that's waging really economic warfare. Remember what has happened to the Russian airplane that was basically destroyed in Sinai. The Russian tourism industry, and tourists have not come back. The country is deeply polarized, the security forces do not really seem to be able to secure the country.

The attacks against the Coptic community, even though it's a small community, but they exacerbate the social and political problems and that's why what we need to understand these attacks against the Copts, whether in December, in Cairo, 25 Copts were killed and 49 injured and now my take, and I hope I'm wrong, I think you're going to see more than 15 people killed given the fact that hundreds of people basically on this particular Palm Sunday worshipping at Tanta.

And as you've said -- as you have suggested earlier, we have seen some tensions in Tanta before, between the Coptic community and some radical elements as well. So this comes in a highly polarized situation and aggravate the tensions and the challenges facing President al-Sisi.

GORANI: And, Ben Wedeman in Turkey, let's tell our viewers who may be just joining us, the latest there on this attack on a Christian church, a Coptic Church in Tanta, north of Cairo. What are authorities telling us about what happened and how many people were hurt as we -- on our TV screens see the latest death toll.

WEDEMAN: The latest death toll is 15, more than 40 wounded. The bomb went off, we're told, in the front row of the Mar Girgis Church, which is 100 kilometers north of Cairo. And, of course, because it is Palm Sunday the church was absolutely jam packed. And, of course, as is often the case in Egypt, the initial death toll rises dramatically as the situation becomes clearer. What happened -- I just wanted to add something to what Fawaz was saying before. When you look -- I mean, Egypt has a huge number of problems.

But one of those problems is the security service, the Mukhabarat, which is in a sense a state into -- unto itself. And in the case of the church bombing in December, the young man who it's believed did it, his story is symptomatic of the situation in Egypt. He apparently was arrested for participating in a demonstration in his hometown of Faume which is to the west of the Nile Delta. He was taken to prison, brutally tortured and in prison, of course, he was radicalized by Islamist elements. So when he went out, he was far more dangerous a person than when he went in.

[05:15:04] And this is often the case. That the brutality of the Egyptian security services, in a sense, continues this cycle of radicalization and violence that perhaps has something to do with what we -- we're seeing in Tanta today. In a sense, the Egyptian state through its brutality is producing the very threat that is posed to the state and, of course, to the Christians of Egypt -- Hala.

GORANI: All right. Ben Wedeman, thanks very much. A cycle of radicalization we've seen in other countries in the region as well.

We really appreciate your insights, Fawaz Gerges, who's joining us from London.

We'll have a lot more on our breaking news coverage. 15 people confirmed killed on yet another attack on a Christian church north of Cairo.

Do stay with CNN. We'll be right back with a lot more. Stay with us.


GORANI: Well, bloodshed in Egypt, north of Cairo, in the industrial town of Tanta. We understand the death toll now quoted by state media rising to 21 as a result of a bomb attack against a Christian church there. About 100 kilometers north of Cairo. Not the first time the Coptic Christian community has been targeted, of course. It happened in December in Cairo. 25 people were killed. The service, of course, was an important one. It is Palm Sunday. A

very important service for Christians around the world on Sunday. That means the church itself would have been absolutely packed with worshipers.

We saw there was a live broadcast streaming, actually, from inside the church and the moment the bomb went off, the signal was lost. And the carnage, this is the aftermath of that bomb attack. You see there are vehicles there, stunned, angry and fearful crowds gathering outside of the church. Tanta there. The Christian community there and across the country feeling extremely vulnerable on this day once again.

Speaking of people feeling vulnerable, civilians in Syria in rebel held areas, at least 16 were killed, we understand, in a rebel held area in Idlib. It is not known who dropped the bomb. But of course as is always the case in these instances, Russian and Syrian warplanes normally are the only ones operating in this area. This is the same place where more than 80 civilians were killed Tuesday by deadly nerve agents.

[05:20:04] In this case, there were deaths, but they are deaths that happened as a result of conventional weapons.

The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is traveling to Moscow in a few days on Saturday. He and the Russian Foreign minister, his counterpart, spoke by phone about the situation in Syria. What did they talk about?

Our Paula Newton joins us from Moscow with the very latest.

Do we know what was in that conversation between Rex Tillerson and Sergey Lavrov after Moscow signaled that it was quite unhappy with the U.S. strike against that Syrian airbase?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, interesting as always that the only readout we received was from the Russian Foreign Ministry. They're saying that look, any investigation that the U.S. has undertaken right now is, in their words, inaccurate and inconclusive. And for that reason, and remember, Hala, that the Russians said that it was the rebels who were responsible for this attack because there was a chemical-making facility nearby. That's their claim.

So they continue to hold that same line. Sergey Lavrov also indicating that look, if we're trying to fight ISIS together in Syria, striking the Syrian regime only plays into the hands of the terrorists.

OK, that's what they gave us as the readout. Playing behind the scenes, Hala, right now, very soon tomorrow, Rex Tillerson will meet with his G-7 counterparts and they will start to begin to form what we're hearing is a political process, a political process that this time is supposed to work where the others have not. What Russia will then want to hear from him, starting on Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, is whether or not regime change is the order of the day.

Of course, Russia continually standing by the Assad regime, and, you know, Hala, as you know, we've heard from the Trump administration in the days prior to this, that they thought Assad would stay in power for now, for the foreseeable future. We still now have contradictory remarks from both Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and Rex Tillerson about whether or not that policy has changed.

GORANI: And since you mentioned it, let us -- Nikki Haley spoke to Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION." The full interview airs later today. She was specifically asked about regime change, is that the objective -- the new objective of the Trump administration, and here is how she answered. Listen.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is regime change in Syria now the official policy of the United States?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: So there is multiple priorities. It is getting Assad out is not the only priority. And so what we're trying to do is obviously defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don't see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out. And then finally, move towards a political solution because at the end of the day this is a complicated situation. There are no easy answers. And a political solution is going to have to happen. But we know that it is not going to be -- there is not any sort of option where a political solution is going to happen with Assad at the head of the regime. It just -- if you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it's going to be hard to see a government that's peaceful and stable with Assad.

TAPPER: Well, of course it's hard to. But is it the position of the Trump administration that he cannot be ruler of Syria anymore, regime change is the policy?

HALEY: Well, regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.


GORANI: So regime change is something we believe is going to happen, that doesn't necessarily mean this is the policy now of the Trump administration. So there is some confusion there in that answer. It's a little unclear as far as the regional reaction as to what that exactly means.

However, after that strike, Paula, against the Syrian air base, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked, is there a change in U.S. policy with regards to Syria? Are you pursuing regime change, in other words? And this is how he replied to that question. It was not on camera. He said, "The strike is not a change in our policy or our posture on Syria."

I mean, basically if you're to draw a conclusion from both Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson, what is the reaction in Moscow? Do they believe the United States is now going down a different road when it comes to Syria? Would they like to see basically Assad gone? NEWTON: You know, no, they don't. And to be frank, Hala, here in

Russia, they are hoping that the United States and its allies does not start another chance to try and have regime change. They don't think it's what Syria needs now.

What's interesting, though, is the some very blunt reaction from Konstantin Kosachev. He's the head of Russia's Foreign Affairs -- Foreign Relations Council. He called -- he says that Nikki Haley is calling a spade a spade. He calls it direct sabotage of the international community's effort to start a process of political negotiations between the authorities and the opposition.

What's he getting at there, Hala? He's saying look, if you, the U.S. coalition and its allies, come to the table with Russia and say Assad has got to go before we get a political process going here, you're going to have trouble. That's why he used the word sabotage.

[05:25:04] Again some very interesting meetings with G-7 leaders the next couple of days. And we are still waiting for Rex Tillerson to arrive here on Wednesday. One thing to be noted despite all the contention, Rex Tillerson's visit is very much still on.

GORANI: All right. Well, that's significant in itself. Thanks very much, Paula Newton, in Moscow.

We'll have a lot more from Beirut, the latest of course on what's happened in Egypt against that attack against that Christian church and the latest as well on the reaction to that strike against Syria by the United States.

Hannah is in London with other news -- Hannah.


The United States is showing its military force in other areas. This in North Korea, in the hopes of stopping Pyongyang's nuclear threats. An American carrier strike group is currently headed towards the Korean Peninsula. A strike group is a formation of Navy assets.

It is not unusual for the U.S. to send an aircraft carrier to the region, but U.S. Defense officials say this deployment is in direct response to recent North Korean nuclear provocations. All those missile tests that we've seen.

Let's go now to North Korea, where our Will Ripley is the only American TV correspondent in Pyongyang right now.

Will, Kim Jong-un has been defiant for so long. It seems unlikely that he's going to halt his nuclear ambitions. So what might he do? What might he do next in response?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, when we were meeting with officials earlier and the news came in that this carrier strike group, the Carl Vinson, was moving back toward the Korean Peninsula, it had been there for joint military exercises just a matter of weeks ago, their response was that this, along with the missile strike that was ordered on Syria, really only emboldened their leader, Kim Jong-un, to accelerate this country's nuclear weapons program because they feel that these weapons are the key to their survival as a nation.

And when you walk around the streets of Pyongyang, you hear people say the exact same thing. They are told that through their state media from a very -- for their whole lives really and this is the message that the government has been repeating for decades now. But they think the Trump administration's behavior and rhetoric really enforces their narrative here in North Korea.

I want to read you a quote, this is a statement from a North Korean government official responding to a question about the Syria missile strike in particular, saying, quote, "The previous U.S. administrations have been attacking those countries who haven't gotten nuclear weapons. And the Trump administration is no different from the previous U.S. governments in pinpointing those nonnuclear states."

Now of course talking about Syria being a nonnuclear state. But also a reference to Iraq and Libya. And North Korea doesn't want to go the same way as those countries, which is why analysts say they could be ready at any moment for their sixth nuclear test ordered by their leader -- Hannah.

JONES: Will, is there a sense of nervousness on the streets of Pyongyang? Perhaps not so much with the people who might be just completely unaware of what going on outside of the country, but at least the regime itself, particularly in light of these talks we had in the United States, between the Chinese leader and President Trump, just a couple of days ago?

RIPLEY: It's interesting, because if you walk around Pyongyang today -- today was actually the Pyongyang marathon day. So there were hundreds of people running the streets, foreigners alongside North Koreans, they were friendly crowds, cheering, giving them high fives, there was no palpable tension whatsoever when you saw these people. And when I ask people if they were worried about escalating tension, they said no. They said they have faith in the leadership of Kim Jong-un.

However, officials do at this point do sense that the tone of the United States has changed. There is a feeling here now that a preemptive military strike is far more likely than during the years of the Obama administration. And so they feel that there is a sense of urgency, which is why you have seen so many missile tests and perhaps a nuclear test really at any moment here.

JONES: Will Ripley live in Pyongyang. Will, thanks very much indeed.

Do stay with us here on CNN NEWSROOM. We'll have plenty more on the reactions from the Korean Peninsula, also Syria, the ongoing conflict there and of course this Palm Sunday, that attack on the Egyptian church north of Cairo. Plenty more after this break.


[05:32:39] GORANI: Welcome back. I'm Hala Gorani, we are live in Beirut, Lebanon, covering multiple developing stories including breaking news out of Egypt. Another attack against a Christian church there in Tanta, north of Cairo. 21 people killed. This is the latest toll coming to us from state media.

You're seeing pictures and images there coming to us of the aftermath of what is believed to be a bomb attack, a bomb that went off inside the church.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is at the Turkish-Syrian border. We'll also be joined by Fawaz Gerges in London.

First, Ben, what are authorities saying happened here? What group might be responsible?

WEDEMAN: Well, now we're hearing from Egyptian state television that the death toll has risen to 21, more than 50 wounded in this attack on the Mar Girgis, the St. George Church in Tanta, which is about 100 kilometers north of Cairo. Of course, it is palm Sunday. So the church at the time was packed with worshipers. And we've seen there was a live feed on Al-Hadath, the Arab television channel, from the church during the mass. And what you see is the mass going on and all of a sudden you hear an explosion, the picture goes away, but you can still hear people shouting and screaming in the background.

Now the foreign -- the spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has put out a statement saying that this was an obnoxious and failed attack, although I don't know about the failed part. It looked like it actually panned out as was planned by whoever was behind it.

No claim of responsibility so far. The Egyptian government for several years now has been struggling with a low-level urban warfare by ISIS affiliated groups as well as other radical groups in the Nile Delta as well as in the northern Sinai. So we don't know who was behind it. But as I said, the death toll at this point at least 21 dead, more than 50 wounded -- Hala.

GORANI: And a couple of important points, we have a papal visit scheduled in the next few weeks in Egypt. I can't even imagine the security headache that's going to be for the Pope. We'll see if that still goes ahead.

And the other thing is the Coptic community, this is not the first time there was a targeted attack like this.

[05:35:05] It happened last December, it happened many times before, in previous years. They might have been happier with Abdel Fattah al- Sisi as their president rather than a Muslim Brotherhood president, democratically elected or not. But they must be extremely frustrated and fearful right now because this keeps happening, these attacks keep killing members of their community. Let's start with the Pope visit. You know, what's the expectation there? WEDEMAN: Well, going back to what you said earlier, happy they were

when Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in the summer of 2013. But since then they've had a series of attacks and disappointment has been growing. Anger has been growing as they've seen more and more of their co-religionists being killed in these attacks. In December, there was an attack on the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul known locally as El Butrusiya. There 25 people were killed.

In February, you had a series of attacks on Christians in Al-Arish which is a town in northern Sinai. Attacks by an ISIS affiliate, it's believed. Many of them fled to Islamiyah, which is on the Suez Canal, and our colleague Ian Lee interviewed them, reported on them, and many of them were angry. They felt that they had been let down by the Egyptian government, that they had put so much faith in. And that seems to be a complaint we're increasingly hearing from Egyptian Christians that simply this government has failed to protect them -- Hala.

GORANI: Fawaz Gerges is the chair of Contemporary Middle East Studies at the London School of Economics. He's also the author of a book on ISIS.

So, well, I want to bring you into this conversation for the wider context. There is a low-level insurgency. It is hell bent on targeting minorities that think or hope that they might get protection from the military government. And also on targeting the security and military infrastructure, but it is successful in that sense, because this -- what it is doing now is sowing terror among the Christian community, 10 percent or so of the population, because it is managing to carry -- to successfully carry out these attacks, Fawaz.

GERGES: Absolutely. Multiple attacks in the past three years in Egypt. Hundreds of security officers have been killed. Scores of civilians. We need to tell our viewers that the Coptic community is not the only community that is being targeted in Egypt. Civilians, foreigners, diplomats, economic targets. ISIS and other militants are really waging economic warfare against the administration of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood president.

The country is deeply polarized. There is a low-level insurgency in northern Sinai, it has spread to other parts of Egypt, Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, and what we need also to stress, Hala, that even though the security services in Egypt are not -- have not really proved to be very effective, it is extremely difficult to protect every religious place in Egypt. Think of how easy it is to place a bomb in a Cairo cathedral or in a Tanta church. Think how easy it is to carry out a suicide bombing and the attacks against the Copts, whether you're talking about Alexandria or Cairo, or Tanta, are really an attack about the very foundation of al-Sisi administration.

They want to sow sectarian tensions because as we have been talking about, the Coptic community feels very frustrated, very angry, they need to be protected and the government obviously is unable to do so.

GORANI: Right. And this is just the aim of terrorism. It's inexpensive, it's easy, and it terrifies people in the Coptic community and other communities, as you so rightly point out, across Egypt who have been targeted by one group or another.

Ben Wedeman is in Turkey. Fawaz Gerges, thanks so much, in London.

We'll have a lot more on this breaking news story after a quick break and also the latest from the region as we continue to broadcast live from Beirut. I'm Hala Gorani. We'll be right back.


[05:42:52] GORANI: Welcome back. An update on our breaking news story from Egypt. There's been an attack on a Christian church north of Cairo. The St. George Church. According to state media, 21 people have been killed. You're seeing video of the aftermath there. Dozens more have been wounded.

We understand a bomb went off actually inside the church, in the first few rows according to information from state media. We will update you on the very latest when we get it.

Hannah Vaughan Jones is in London -- Hannah.

JONES: Hala, thanks.

So Sajjan Gohel is here with me now. He's the international security director for the Asia Pacific Foundation.

Sajjan, thanks very much for coming in. Coptic Christians in Egypt, particularly vulnerable, Palm Sunday today, it's the start of the holy week. But if nothing else, this shows, does it not, that the low- level insurgency within Egypt is very much strengthening?

SAJJAN GOHEL, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR, ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: I'm afraid it's very virulent. And we've seen now this is the second attack on a Coptic church in four months. The previous one was in December. That was actually claimed by ISIS. And we know that there is an ISIS affiliate in the Sinai called Wilayat Sina that have been carrying out attacks against the security forces. But unfortunately also the Coptic community are very vulnerable, not just to attacks at churches, but there have been kidnappings, targeted assassinations, and this timing of the timing is not coincidental on Palm Sunday, a very symbolic and it preempts the impending visit of the Pope himself.

JONES: What is the government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which was of course praised so much last week just in the United States with President Trump, what is his government in Egypt actually trying to do to protect these minority groups?

GOHEL: Well, President al-Sisi has been trying to wage an aggressive battle against the insurgent elements that have grown in the aftermath of the Arab spring. But it's a very difficult challenge. One of problems also for Egypt is that it's become home to a number of extremist elements that have used the Arab spring as a way of growing. The mistake that the Egyptian government has made to some degree has

been trying to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been manipulated and used by other Islamist entities and the Coptic community have been targeted as a result of that.

JONES: Do you think now that the United States might be reassessing its praise of al-Sisi in light of this sort of attack?

[05:45:03] GOHEL: I don't think it's going to change. Al-Sisi is seen as a very important ally to the West. If he falls, the worry is that the Islamists could take over. Remember, it was al-Sisi that launched the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood presidency of Mohamed Morsi. It was seen as controversial in some quarters but the West certainly depends on al-Sisi.

We will have to unfortunately expect more attacks in Egypt, not just against the Coptic community, but we've seen diplomats targeted in Cairo, Israeli tourists, we've seen bombings of Russian jets, the Metrojet plane in the Sinai. This is unfortunately now what Egypt is witnessing.

JONES: This is the state of play in Egypt right now.

Sajjan Gohel, thanks very much indeed.

So more attacks that we should expect to come. Hala Gorani, my colleague, is in Beirut covering the story for us in more detail now -- Hala.

GORANI: Yes, Hannah, I'm joined now by CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton. And let's talk about the wider context here in Egypt. You have the militant insurgency in the Sinai. You have a radicalized sort of insurgent effort to destabilize the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by targeting members of the Christian community among other strategies that they're using. They're using right now. But they're doing it, quote-unquote, effectively, in the sense that they are able to mount these attacks.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, that's absolutely, Hala. There are so many different aspects to this insurgency. It is a multifaceted insurgency. On the one hand, as your previous guest from London mentioned, there are a lot of elements of ISIS that are active in the Sinai Peninsula. They are also active in Egypt at large. So these forces combined with the forces that are sympathetic or part of the Muslim Brotherhood are forces that are absolutely opposed to the al-Sisi government.

The West sees the al-Sisi government generally as being a force for stability. The problem is they're sitting on a pressure cooker and that pressure cooker is about to explode. It's very difficult for any government, any central government in Cairo, to really control the entire population of some 90 million people in a way that allows for some views, some extremist views to be expressed, but expressed in a nonviolent manner. And that is a real problem.

GORANI: Yes. LEIGHTON: Because this is -- this is the kind of manifestation that

you see, this attack, on the church in Tanta.

GORANI: Absolutely. And Western countries who see Abdel Fattah al- Sisi as a force of stability, of course, inside Egypt the view is quite different depending on who do you speak with, that they've gone back to the old ways of state control over media, over freedom of expression, over police and security forces, overreaching their authority. And here you have a situation where sometimes the way the government acts toward dissent is radicalizing certain portions of the population as well. And creating a situation where one is feeding the other.

LEIGHTON: That's right. And the fact that, you know, in Egypt you have a system where there is a state within the state, the intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, is very, very powerful. And it controls many facets of the Egyptian society and the Egyptian economy. And that very fact also lends itself to the feeling among many in Egypt that there is no economic opportunity for them, if they lack the connections, if they lack the ability to in essence influence the bureaucracy on their behalf, they then see themselves as victims. And that then becomes really rife fodder for extremism and for the kinds of attacks that we see, not only in the church in Tanta but also really throughout the country.

GORANI: Yes. We certainly see it and at the heart of it, of course, is -- as always, the suffering from civilians and this particular case, Coptic church in the northern part of the country.

Colonel Cedric Leighton, thanks very much.

Just to recap for our viewers, state media are now reporting 21 people killed in this bomb attack, a bomb that went off inside the church on Palm Sunday, just a few weeks before a papal visit to Egypt.

We'll have a lot more in our breaking news coming up next.



[05:53:16] GORANI: Welcome back. Breaking news out of Egypt. State media now reporting that the death toll following a church attack in Tanta north of Cairo has risen to 21. About 50 people injured after a bomb went off inside the church. No group has claimed responsibility. We're still awaiting a statement from Egypt's Interior Ministry there. Some of the images coming to us from Tanta of the aftermath of that attack. More later, but for now, Hannah is in London.

JONES: Hala, thank you.

A shocking new video shows the chaos during that deadly truck attack in Sweden on Friday. Take a look at this. You can see panicked shoppers fleeing for safety as the truck plowed through the retail area in Stockholm, the capital city. Four people were killed and more than a dozen wounded in the attack. CNN's Max Foster joins me now live from Stockholm.

Max, when we look at that video, you see just the speed of the truck as it mowed down those innocent people on Friday afternoon. Nearly two days on now, and how are Swedes reflecting?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has become the focal point, really. We're just around the corner really from that street, the street incidentally is being reopened in this act of defiance and it's absolutely full of people, people aren't afraid of going back to the street. The message has come from the king, the message has come from the prime minister, we can't be cowed in the face of terror. And the message really has resonated amongst the people.

So this becomes the focal point. There'll be a vigil here a little later on. It's already filling up with people as you can see. And what they have done is brought all of the flowers from all those other makeshift memorials around the city and brought them here and laid them on the steps. Quite an incredible scene really in this fragrant smell of roses, really billowing up as the wind comes through them. And lots of messages coming out, really playing into that theme, Hannah, that I was describing, so there is a frame there, and it says -- so democracy is the most important thing that we have.

[05:55:12] And it really speaks to something much bigger that Europe is facing, these terror threats, these isolated terror threats should they undermine democracy, the free society. This is a typically liberal European nation. And they are refusing to respond to that attack.

Thirty-nine-year-old Uzbekistan man still in custody, Hannah. Other people have been questioned but not arrested. So, so far it suggests that he wasn't part of a wider network.

JONES: But he is refusing to speak out.

Max Foster, live from Stockholm, thanks very much indeed.

And that is it for me. I'm Hannah Vaughan Jones in London. Hala is in Beirut.

GORANI: All right. A quick update on what we know about that church attack, 21 people killed so far according to state media. About 50 injured.

And, Hannah, we're seeing here some of the images coming to us from state run television, Al Masriya, the aftermath of the attack. You can imagine the fear, the confusion, stunned worshipers outside the church in Tanta, that industrial town, feeling once again vulnerable, once again the targets of a militant insurgency is what they believe, though no group claimed responsibility. We are still awaiting a statement from the Interior Ministry.

I'm Hala Gorani. We'll have a lot more breaking news on CNN after a quick break. Thanks for joining us. Stay with CNN. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)