Egyptian Coptic church bomb kills 21, wounds 79
As some 1,000 Coptic worshippers in Egypt concluded their New Year’s Eve midnight service, a powerful bomb exploded, killing 21 and wounding 79 others.
The blast followed warnings from al-Qaida in Iraq that Christians in Egypt would be attacked. Police initially blamed the Saints Church in Alexandria attack on a parked car. Later, the Interior Ministry said it was likely a suicide bomber, The Guardian said.
The Ministry, in a statement said a number of cars were destroyed by the blast adding, “It is likely that the device which exploded was carried by a suicide bomber who died among the others,” The Guardian reported.
Both methods are commonly used by al-Qaida. The Egyptian government defeated a militant Islamic insurgency in the 1990s, and has long said there is no militant Islamic presence in the country.
However, there is a growing sector of Islamic hardliners who may have become more radicalized as sectarian tensions between Egypt’s Muslims and Christians heightened, the AP said.
Bloomberg reported that the blast occurred at 12:30 a.m. on the first day of the New Year. Father Mena Adel, a priest at the service, said it occurred while people were leaving. He told The Guardian, “I was inside the church and heard a huge explosion. People’s bodies were in flames.”
Marco Boutros, 17, who survived the attack, told the AP, “The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf. All I could see were body parts scattered all over—legs and bits of flesh.”
Another witness told The Guardian, “This is a scene from Baghdad.” People mentioned the burned chassis of a wrecked car, and several body parts and dozens injured nearby.
Within hours of the explosion President Mubarak, on state TV, vowed to catch the perpetrators saying, “We will cut off the hands of terrorists and those plotting against Egypt’s security…terrorism does not distinguish between Copts and Muslims,” the AP reported.
Bloomberg reported that Suleiman Awwad, presidential spokesman said, “the president, while expressing his condolences to the victims’ families, urges Egyptians, Muslims and Coptic Christians alike, to stand united against terrorism.”
Bishop Armia, a senior aide to Pope Shenouda III said, “This attack targets Egypt’s security as a whole. God will protect us,” the AP reported.
Sectarian violence has worsened in Egypt, where only 10 percent of the populace of 80 million are Christians in a Muslim majority country. In November, a number of Christians were killed in a clash with police after they halted construction of a church, Bloomberg said.
The AP called it the New Year explosion the deadliest attack on Christians since 1999 when clashes in a southern Egyptian town led to the 20 people dead, mostly Christians. From 2004 to 2006, Islamic militants were responsible for three major bomb attacks in three Red Sea resorts that killed 125 people, the AP said.
The government blamed the attacks on local extremists but the AP said it may have been a ruse to draw attention away from fears of the al-Qaida, which would affect the country’s tourism industry.
No faith in government
Christians do not believe Egypt’s government is doing enough to protect them. After the church explosion, Christians clashed with police, and some forced entry into a mosque across the street where Christians and Muslims threw books, stones and bottles at each other, the AP said.
Later in the afternoon Christians waving kitchen knives again took to the streets. A Christian woman at Saints Hospital, which is affiliated with the church, shouted, “Now it’s between Christians and the government, not between Muslims and Christians.”
Christians are doubtful a full investigation of the blast will be launched. Archbishop Arweis, a leading cleric in Alexandria, said police want to blame the blast on a suicide bomber so that they can say the attacker acted alone.
Al-Qaida in Iraq has been relentlessly attacking Christians in Iraq since October when they held siege on a church which resulted in 44 deaths, on behalf of two Egyptian Christian women who allegedly converted to Islam, the AP said.
The women have been kept in hiding by the church, and many hard-line Muslims believe the church is imprisoning them. The church has denied this, but al-Qaida in Iraq had pledged to escalate attacks on Christians until the two women are released, the AP said.