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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot