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Egypt refers 48 to trial over IS church bombings

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the three suicide attacks that targeted churches in Egypt in December and April
A bomb blast struck worshippers gathering to celebrate Palm Sunday at the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in the Nile Delta city of Tanta (AFP)

Egyptian authorities have referred 48 suspected Islamic State (IS) group militants to military trial over three deadly church bombings, the public prosecutor's office said in a statement on Sunday.

Of the 48 suspects, 31 are in custody and 17 are still at large, it said.

IS claimed responsibility for the three suicide attacks that targeted the churches in December and April.

An attack on 11 December in the heart of Cairo on the Saint Peter and Saint Paul church, adjacent to the headquarters of Coptic Pope Tawadros II, killed 29 people.

On 9 April, 45 people were killed in twin church bombings claimed by IS as Christians gathered to celebrate Palm Sunday in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria.

IS has threatened to carry out more attacks against Egypt's Christians, who make up around 10 percent of its population of about 90 million.

The suspects allegedly set up IS cells in Cairo and in the southern province of Qena, the statement said.

It added that they were also suspected of undergoing training at IS military camps in Libya and Syria.

The group is also accused of killing eight policemen and wounding three at a checkpoint in the southwest on 16 January, the statement said.

Since last month's church attacks, the interior ministry has issued regular statements announcing the arrest of IS suspects in connection with the bombings.

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with Donald Trump in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, where the US President urged Muslim leaders to take a stand against violence committed in the name of religion.

Despite the recent spate of deadly bombings and attacks, Trump said that "safety seems to be very strong" in Egypt.

Responding through an interpreter, Sisi said: "Egypt is secure and stable and is going very well with the cooperation of the United States."