Moments after the explosion rocked her church, Mona Faiez's phone rang. It was her sister, checking to see if she was alive.

She was unhurt; she wasn't at the church, where 27 now lay dead and scores more were injured. But alerted by the call, she rushed toward it. These were her fellow parishioners, her closest friends.

"What kind of human could do this," she asked, "and why?" Less than three hours later, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance to St Mark's Cathedral in the northern city of Alexandria, killing 17 and injuring many more. The dead included three police officers who stopped the bomber from entering the site. The head of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, was presiding over Palm Sunday Mass at the church, also packed with worshipers, but he was unharmed.

President Abdel-fatah al-Sisi had declared a state of emergency across the country for three months.

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Altogether, at least 44 people died and more than a hundred were injured in the two attacks, the deadliest single day to strike Egypt's Coptic Christian minority in decades.

Isis (Islamic State) claimed responsibility for both bombings through the Amaq News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamist militant group. World leaders, including Pope Francis and US President Donald Trump, condemned the attacks.

In Tanta, 130km north of Cairo, Faiez said her closest friend and church deacon, Soliman Shaker, was preparing for his daughter's wedding in a couple of weeks. The bomb, police said, had been planted in the church's pews. But witnesses said a suicide bomber was in the pews when he detonated his explosives.

Shaker was dead. "I ran to the church to find my lifelong friend shattered to pieces by the bomb," said Faiez, 61, who lives nearby.

The assaults threaten to further alienate the country's Orthodox Coptic Christian community, which makes up 10 per cent of the population. For decades, Egypt's Copts have felt discriminated against by the country's Muslims, and assaults against them have intensified since the 2011 revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.