Suspected suicide bomber kills 21 at Egypt church

People gather after a bomb exploded in Egypt's northern city of Alexandria Reuters – People gather after a bomb exploded in Egypt's northern city of Alexandria January 1, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) – A bomb killed at least 21 people outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria early on New Year's Day and the Interior Ministry said a foreign-backed suicide bomber may have been responsible.

Dozens of people were wounded by the blast, which scattered body parts, destroyed cars and smashed windows. The attack prompted Christians to protest on the streets, and some Christians and Muslims hurled stones at each other.

Egypt has stepped up security around churches, banning cars from parking outside them, since an al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq issued a threat against the Church in Egypt in November.

Egypt's leaders were quick to call for unity, wary of any upsurge in sectarian strife or other tension as the country approaches a presidential election due in September amid some uncertainty about whether President Hosni Mubarak, 82, will run.

Mubarak promised in a televised address that terrorists would not destabilize Egypt or divide Christians and Muslims. He said the attack "carries evidence of the involvement of foreign fingers" and vowed to pursue the perpetrators.

A statement on an Islamist website posted about two weeks before the blast called for attacks on Egypt's churches, listing among them the one hit. No group was named in the statement.

President Barack Obama described the bombing as a "barbaric and heinous act" and said the United States, a major ally, was ready to help Cairo in responding to it.

The Muslim Brotherhood, seen as Egypt's biggest opposition group and which decades ago renounced violence as means to power in Egypt, condemned the attack.

"There are people who want this country to be unstable, and all fingers point to outside hands being behind this incident," senior group member Mohamed el-Katatni said.

The circumstances of the attack, compared with other incidents abroad, "clearly indicates that foreign elements undertook planning and execution," the Interior Ministry said.

"It is likely that the device which exploded was carried by a suicide bomber who died among others," it said in a statement. State media had earlier blamed a car bomb.

The embassy of the United States, a close ally of Egypt, expressed condolences to victims of the "terrible event." Other Western and regional states also condemned the bombing.

An Iraqi deputy interior minister, Hussein Kamal, urged Arab states to cooperate in the fight against terrorism and to help stop Arab militants training in Iraq and then returning home.

COMMUNAL FRUSTRATIONS

Health Ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman Shahin said 21 people had been confirmed killed so far and 97 were wounded, the official Middle East News Agency reported.

The church said 20 people were confirmed killed and remains had been found indicating 4-5 others died in the blast, which struck as worshippers marking the New Year left the church.

"We condemn this unfortunate incident that threatens our nation, its security and safety of its citizens. What happened is a dangerous escalation of sectarian events that target the Copts," said a statement from the Alexandria Council of Priests.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Muslim-majority Egypt's 79 million people. Tensions often flare between the two communities over issues such as building churches or close relationships between members of the two faiths.

Analysts said this attack was on a much bigger scale and appeared far more organized than the kind of violence that usually erupts when communal frustrations boil over.

After protests overnight, more than 100 Christians protested again on Saturday near the Coptic Orthodox church that was hit. "We sacrifice our souls and blood for the cross," they chanted. Police used teargas to disperse protesters.

ISLAMIST THREAT

Egypt's Christians have been threatened by the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq, which attacked a church in Baghdad two months ago in what it called a response to the mistreatment of Muslim converts by Egyptian Copts.

A statement posted on an Islamist website called on Muslims to "bomb churches during the Christmas holiday when churches are crowded." It was not clear who was behind the statement that listed churches in Egypt and elsewhere, including Alexandria's Church of the Two Saints that was targeted.

The Orthodox Coptic Christmas is on January 7.

Pope Benedict, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, denounced violence against Christians in his New Year address.

Analysts said they did not expect a return to the kind of Islamic militant insurgency crushed by Egypt's government in the 1990s. Nevertheless, the attack could add to sectarian tension and points to influence of foreign Islamist groups.

"The first and most likely possibility is that a sleeper cell of al Qaeda group carried out this operation and this would mean that al Qaeda has penetrated the Islamic political movement in Egypt," said analyst Nabil Abdel-Fattah.

Alexandria governor Adel Labib "accused al Qaeda of planning the bombing," state television reported.

Officials are swift to play down sectarian differences and have been keen to emphasize national harmony before the September presidential poll.

Mubarak, 82 and in power since 1981, is expected to run if he is able to. Gallbladder surgery in March revived questions about his health, but he has returned to a full schedule.

Sectarian tension is fueled in part by Christian grievances such as laws making it easier to build mosques than churches.

In November, hundreds of Christians clashed with police, and with some Muslims who joined in, in Cairo in a protest against a decision to halt construction of a church. Officials said the Christians had no license to build. Two Christians died, dozens were hurt and more than 150 detained.

Last January, a drive-by shooting of six Christians and a Muslim policeman at a church in southern Egypt sparked protests.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed El-Shemi in Alexandria, Marwa Awad, Sherine El Madany and Mohamed Abdellah in Cairo, Firouz Sedarat in Dubai and Serena Chaudhry in Baghdad; writing by Edmund Blair; editing by Janet Lawrence)

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606 Comments

  • 0 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 0 users disliked this comment
    David Sun Jan 30, 2011 05:19 pm PST Report Abuse
    Why is when the Isrealies bomb a mosque (doubling as a military HQ), the world goes gaga and declares the Isrealies "murderers", "intolerant", "mean", etc...?
    Yet when Muslims attack a Christian Church (probably older then most churches on the face of the earth), not a single word is either printed or transmitted. When the Pope condemns that action, he is being "Stupid", "intolerant", etc...
    Not only that muslims who bomb for the sake of Allah are heroes.
    this is a religious double (if not triple standard). it is ok for Muslims to do that and condemn the Isrealies destroying a mosque (doubling as a Military HQ) and the Pope can not Condemn the destruction of a Church?

    This is where I find the differences between liberals and Conservatives:
    Conservatives will stick up for their enemies (and die defending their enemies if required defend the most basic human rights and or religious rights or free speech rights)
    Conservatives will fight for the right for you to say, "Somebody PLEASE get that over-dressed monkey out of the Vatican, and shut the place down. Make the monkey go live in Siberia, and hopefull not bother anybody anymore. Send the priests with him."
    CeeCee
    Liberals will attack anyone who even thinks about "threatening" their viewpoint.
    CeeCee is an example. Why do Liberals fear religion and or the people who practice Religion?
    It does not matter what religion, what name you call your Holy places, or who you worship.
    Every human being on this earth has a right to worship the end of a pencil if he wants and not have the building he worships destroyed (due to religious intolerance).
    I do not care what religion you practice. Leave those Holy places alone.
    the Difference is that if you use a Holy Place as also a Military HQ, that crosses the line. it has ceased being a true Holy Place and has become a Military target (to be utterly and completely razed to the ground (right down the the corner stone).
    The Pope is not infallable. He is human. I do not and have not believed that he is perfect (when dealing with God). He will say stupid stuff. he will say good stuff.
    CeeCee said a stupid statement full of vitriol and hate.
    Many of you have written similar statements without realizing the point of the article. He condemned the destruction of a church (a Holy Place).
    this anti-christian sentiment that abounds in this blog is deafening. More over, the anti-Catholic Church sentiment superceeds even that sentiment. the pope is human and that is that.
    I will gladly give my life for all of you intolerant anti-Christian and anti-Catholic Church Liberals (just so you can spew your vitriolic hatred of all things religious [CeeCee as an example]).
    My challenge is will you do the same for me when I ask the same of you? the day may arrive that both of us will be under attack. What will you do then. After you have vanquished us "religious [fundies]" who will join you to defend your oppressed right to practice what you want?
  • 0 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 0 users disliked this comment
    gary &sherrieb Mon Jan 03, 2011 05:10 pm PST Report Abuse
    Nobody really cares what the pope condemns. This is a good way for him to turn the LIGHT away from all of the child loving priests while he speaks for God. You are the last one who should speak for God poop benedict. You have lost what credibility you thought you had... go to hell.
  • 1 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 4 users disliked this comment
    CeeCee Mon Jan 03, 2011 04:54 pm PST Report Abuse
    Somebody PLEASE get that over-dressed monkey out of the Vatican, and shut the place down. Make the monkey go live in Siberia, and hopefull not bother anybody anymore. Send the priests with him.
  • 2 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 0 users disliked this comment
    Defender of the faith Mon Jan 03, 2011 10:28 am PST Report Abuse
    Dear CeeCee:

    It is more than obvious that you are hurting. That you do not know how to handle an injustice that you feel has been place against you by another person on these boards. Because of your inability to handle this and a difference in ones own religion you have decide to take the "low road" in your attempt to, and I hate to use this word, correct things.

    I did make it clear that it was not me who "hijacked' you user ID and began making comments under that hijacked name. For some reason though you chose not to believe me. the impression I was left with was that your lack of distrust is/was based on the fact that I am Catholic. Based on that, you decided to do what Jesus would never do and that is to do to me what someone has done to you. CeeCee, you have hijacked my user ID and you hae posted very rude, hateful and immature comments in the hope that people will believe it is me.

    So CeeCee, what was your mistake? Well the answer is very simple. All the comments can be and have been traced back to your original name. Please note that I have spoken to Yahoo via the phone and via email. They will take cae of this within 24 hours. Take care!
  • 1 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 2 users disliked this comment
    Firefox Mon Jan 03, 2011 03:18 am PST Report Abuse
    The Pope must not only condemned the acts in words but must also be in deeds.
  • 0 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 2 users disliked this comment
    John Sun Jan 02, 2011 06:17 pm PST Report Abuse
    The Great Harlot and the beast
  • 4 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 0 users disliked this comment
    James Sun Jan 02, 2011 05:43 pm PST Report Abuse
    So Cee Cee copied DOF's screen name. Hhhmmm sounds like a desperate attempt at punishing poor DOF. "sticks and stone's"

    Cee Cee? really? This is what you've downgraded to?
  • 4 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 0 users disliked this comment
    spinol Sun Jan 02, 2011 05:32 pm PST Report Abuse
    Cee Cee, really? You've sunken to this? Copying DOF's name to post up your vile rantings? I would've never believed that your cry for help or attempt to grab some sick satisfaction would drive you to do this.

    You do realize that all your past comments are viewable still and can be scrolled through? You do realize that scrolling to yesterdays comments exposes you identity?
  • 3 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 0 users disliked this comment
    Defender of the faith Sun Jan 02, 2011 05:09 pm PST Report Abuse
    It would appear that someone, or maybe even someones, who is an obvious Catholic hater has decided to hijack my yahoo name. Now, I will of course give this person the benefit of the doubt that this was done out of the fact that this person has not been very happy with their own spiritual life. I will, to help this person out, contact Yahoo tomorrow in the hope that they will be able to correct this slight problem. I should say that I did not and do not agree with the same thing when it was done to CeeCee.
    It is more than obvious that this person is afraid of the given right of freedom of speech and of course the freedom to worship freely. It is also obvious that this person is afraid of the truth that the Catholic Church brings to all. I will finish by saying that I am a devote Roman Catholic and I pray that, when the time comes, I will die a devote Roman Catholic.
  • 0 users liked this comment Please sign in to rate this comment up. Please sign in to rate this comment down. 7 users disliked this comment
    franklin Sun Jan 02, 2011 04:01 pm PST Report Abuse
    All religions kill

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