Egyptian Christians protest after bomb attack at church kills 21

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Christians in Egypt staged protests in three cities yesterday to protest against the government's failure to protect them after a bombing blamed on Islamic militants that killed 21 people as worshippers left a church service 30 minutes into the new year.

Security forces maintained a heavy security presence around the Saints Church in the northern port city of Alexandria where morning Mass was held amid the debris of the blast and bloodstained walls.

Hundreds of black-clad riot police and dozens of security forces' personnel carriers later cordoned off the street, preventing mourners from entering while emotions ran high. "I want to know those who killed these people in there, why did they do it? God created life, who are men to take it?" wailed Aida Scond, a Coptic Christian woman outside the barricades. "Who do they think they are?"

Pope Benedict XVI joined Egypt's leading religious leaders in condemning the attack. He called the bombing a "vile gesture" that "offends God and all humanity".

No group has admitted responsibility for the attack, but security officials said police were looking at the possibility that Islamic hardliners in Alexandria were behind it. Seven people were being questioned yesterday, a security source told Reuters. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, called the perpetrators "foreign agents" and vowed to track them down.

"This act of terrorism shook the country's conscience, shocked our feelings and hurt the hearts of Muslim and Coptic Egyptians," Mr Mubarak said in his address. "The blood of their martyrs in the land of Alexandria mixed to tell us all that all Egypt is the target and that blind terrorism does not differentiate between a Copt and a Muslim."

Street protests broke out for the second day since the attack in the narrow alleys outside the blocked church at the centre of the attack.

The demonstration yesterday was less serious than on Saturday when an enraged mob clashed with police and broke into a nearby mosque, throwing books, stones and bottles. Police responded by firing tear gas on the protesters.

A group of about 40 Christians yesterday chanted anti-government and religious slogans after complaining that they were not allowed into to the church. Many expressed dissatisfaction with the Egyptian government for failing to protect the country's largest religious minority.

Al-Qa'ida in Iraq announced in November that Christians in Egypt would be targeted until two priests' wives who were allegedly detained in monasteries after attempting to convert to Islam were freed. The Egyptian government beefed up security around Christian places of worship in response to the threats, but as Alexandria mourns, it appears it was not enough.

Christians, predominantly of the Coptic Orthodox faith, make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's 80 million. "I don't have a lot to say, we have to get our rights back. The police are preventing us from entering the church. This is unjust, discriminatory government and Christians in Egypt have never been more oppressed than now," said Hani Surial, one of the demonstrators at the church. There were other protests in Cairo and Assiut in southern Egypt.

In Egypt, sectarian tension is always at a simmer, but the bombing is the worst attack on its Christian minority in over a decade. It came almost a year after six Christians leaving Orthodox Christmas Mass in a town in southern Egypt were killed in a drive-by shooting. In November, two people died in a riot in Cairo over the construction of a church.

"Attacks on worshippers in churches are a relatively new phenomenon in Egypt. Most previous attacks involving church buildings focused on the buildings themselves, not people," wrote Cornelis Hulsman, chief editor of the Arab West report, an electronic magazine that chronicles instances of sectarian violence in Egypt. According to the Arab West report this is the fourth such attack on Christians since 1997 and the most fatal.

An embattled community

* Coptic is the modern term for Egyptian Christians. The Christian community, mainly Orthodox Copts, make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's mainly Muslim population of nearly 80 million people. It is based on the teachings of Saint Mark who brought Christianity to Egypt during the time of Emperor Nero in the 1st-century.

Outside of Egypt, there are roughly four million Copts under the leadership of Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Church. As a minority in Egypt, they have suffered considerable sectarian violence in the last 40 years. Human rights groups have noted an even greater amount of religious intolerance in recent years.

John Elmes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor