The main doorway to St. George’s church in Tanta had already been sealed. It wasn’t supposed to happen, not here and not on Palm Sunday. But horror returned to Egypt on April 9 when two suicide blasts at Coptic churches, in Tanta and Alexandria, killed at least 44 people and prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare a three-month state of emergency. The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Jonathan Rashad set off for the Nile Delta city, a few-hours train ride north of Cairo, where he is based. For two years, Rashad has embarked on portrait tours of mourning in Egypt. As he did in 2015 after the brutal killings of Egyptian Christians by the Islamic State in Libya, and after the downing of EgyptAir Flight 804 last May, Rashad aimed to capture the suffering of the families left behind.
On assignment for TIME in Tanta, Rashad attended funerals and was introduced to families through a local priest. Daniel Maher, a priest who was in the church at the time, lost his son, Beshoy. Mark Samir Iskander lost his brother, Michael. Emad Tadros lost his father, Medhat. Enayat Shenouda lost her husband, Saad Zaki Badawi.
He took them and others aside to hear the stories of those killed in the blast and take emotional portraits as they held images of the dead. Some spoke about first hearing about the explosion. Others expressed relief that a family member had become a martyr. One man named Abanoub told Rashad that he had been watching the Palm Sunday service on television when the footage was cut off; his father, who he said always sat on the front bench during services, was inside. “My dad slept next to me on bed the night before Palm Sunday,” Abanoub said. “That was the last time I saw him.”
Jonathan Rashad is a photographer based in Cairo. Follow him on Instagram @jonathanrashad.
Andrew Katz, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s Senior Multimedia Editor. Follow him on Twitter @katz.
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