At least 44 people were killed in two bombings targeting Egypt’s Christian minority on Sunday - the first at St George's Church in Tanta, about 60 miles (100 kilometres) north of Cairo, followed by the explosion during Mass at Alexandria’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral.
Nagwa Abdel-Aleem, 55, was guarding the entrance to the church when the suicide bomber attempted to pass her security check. Unable to proceed any further, he detonated the bomb at the main gate. It is thought the attacker's primary target was Pope Tawadros II, who had left the site a few minutes earlier.
Ms Abdel-Aleem is the first woman to die in the line of duty in Egypt’s police force. Egyptian media reported that one of Ms Abdel-Aleem’s two sons, also a police officer, also died in the incident.
Pictures of her alongside her husband, an army lieutenant, have been widely circulated on social media, along with messages of thanks and blessings.
“Muslim police officer in a hijab lost her life defending Alexandria's Coptic Cathedral. Don't judge people by what they wear. Actions count,” one tribute on Twitter read.
The attacks occurred on Palm Sunday, a week before Coptic Easter. Pope Francis is due to visit Egypt later in April.
Egypt’s Christian minority - around 10 per cent of the 90 million strong population - is the frequent targets of Islamist groups around the country as well as Isis-affiliated militants in the Sinai, which have flourished in the chaos that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 revolution.
Sunday’s attacks have sparked renewed public anger at President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has promised to crack down on extremism.
The government has declared a state of emergency for the next three months and deployed troops to guard public spaces across the country.
Wahby Lamie, one of whose nephews was killed and another injured in the Tanta blast, expressed exasperation to Reuters.
“How much longer are we going to be this divided? Anyone who's different from [the Islamist extremists] now is an infidel, whether they're Muslim or Christian. They see them as infidels,” he said.
“How much longer are these people going to exist? And how much longer will security be this incompetent?”
Isis claimed responsibility for the bloodshed later on Sunday, claiming that two of its fighters wearing suicide vests carried out the attacks, and warned of more to come.
“Crusaders and their apostate allies should know the bill between us and them is very big and they will pay it with rivers of blood from their children, God willing. Wait for us, for we will wait for you,” the group said in a statement.
The organisation previously released a video vowing it would “cleanse” Egypt of Christians.Reuse content