Egypt car bomb kills seven at Alexandria Coptic church

The car bomb exploded as worshippers left a New Year's Eve service

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A car bomb explosion outside a church in the north Egyptian city of Alexandria has killed seven people and injured 24, the interior ministry says.

The blast, apparently caused by a car bomb, hit people as they left a new year's service at the al-Qidiseen church shortly after midnight.

Sectarian tensions have recently been on the rise in Egypt.

After the blast, angry Christians reportedly threw stones at police officers and targeted a nearby mosque.

Protesters went into the mosque, throwing books out onto the street, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The mayor of Alexandria, Gen Adel Labib, said on Egyptian TV that there had been recent threats of attacks on churches, though he tried to play down any possible sectarian motive for Saturday's bombing.

Sectarian violence

A local priest said the death-toll from the blast would have been much higher had the explosion happened minutes later, after more people had left the service, reports the BBC's Khaled Ezzelarab in Cairo.

After the explosion, Christians were seen chanting beside a burnt-out car in front of the church: "We sacrifice our souls and blood for the Cross."

Christians from the Coptic Orthodox Church make up about 10% of Egypt's predominantly Muslim population.

BBC map

The rise of political Islam and the failure of the government to address Coptic claims of discrimination have fuelled divisions, analysts say.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also been conducting a campaign against Christians following the reported conversion to Islam by two Egyptian Christian women in order to divorce their husbands.

Alexandria, Egypt's second-largest city with a population of about four million, has seen sectarian violence in the past.

In 2006, there were days of clashes between Copts and Muslims after a Copt was stabbed to death during a knife attack on three of the city's churches.

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