Twenty-one dead in Egypt New Year's Mass bombing

A bomb, possibly carried by a suicide bomber, exploded in front of a Coptic Christian church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria early today, killing at least 21 people.



After the blast, which took place as worshippers emerged from a New Year's Mass, enraged Christians at the church clashed with police and stormed a nearby mosque, prompting fights and volleys of stone throwing with Muslims, police and witnesses said - a sign of the sectarian anger that has been arising with greater frequency in Egypt.



Nearly 1,000 Christians were attending the Mass at the Saints Church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, said a priest at the church, Father Mena Adel. The service had just ended, and worshippers were leaving the building when the blast went off, about a half-hour after midnight.



"I was inside the church and heard a huge explosion," Fr Adel said. "People's bodies were in flames."



The blast was originally thought to come from a car parked outside the church, but police said they were still investigating whether the car had been rigged with explosives or if a bomb had been placed under it. Witnesses reported seeing the charred chassis of the destroyed car, with the remains of several bodies nearby and dozens wounded.

The Interior Ministry later said in a statement that there was no sign the blast originated from any of the destroyed cars, suggesting that "it is likely that the device which exploded was carried by a suicide bomber who died among others".







Alexandria governor Adel Labib blamed al Qaida for the blast, pointing to recent threats by the terror group's branch in Iraq to attack Christians.



"The al-Qa'ida organisation threatened to attack churches inside Egypt," he told state TV.



After the explosion, some Christians from the church clashed with police in anger over the blast. The Christians hurled stones at police and a nearby mosque, chanting, "With our blood and soul, we redeem the cross."



A photographer at the scene said the protesters stormed into the mosque, throwing books inside out on to the street. The protest sparked clashes with Muslims, as both sides began throwing stones and bottles at each other in the streets.



The attack comes at a time of rising sectarian tension in Egypt and the broader region. In November, hundreds of Christians rioted in the capital, Cairo, smashing cars and windows after police violently stopped the construction of a church. The rare outbreak of Christian unrest in the capital left one person dead.



Christians are believed to make up about 10 per cent of Egypt's mainly Muslim population of nearly 80 million people, and they have grown increasingly vocal in complaints about discrimination. There have been occasional attacks targeting Christians - most notably, in January 2009, seven Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting on a church in southern Egypt during celebrations for the Orthodox Coptic Christmas. The Saints Church in Alexandria targeting early Saturday also came under attack in April 2006, when a man with a knife stabbed worshippers.



At the same time, al-Qa'ida-linked militants have carried out a campaign of attacks against Christians in Iraq, killing 68 in a church siege in October and two more Christians in attacks in Baghdad on Thursday.



The attacks in Iraq have an unusual connection to Egypt. Al-Qa'ida in Iraq says it is carrying out the campaign of anti-Christian attacks in the name of two Egyptian Christian women who reportedly converted to Islam in order to get divorces from their husbands. The Coptic Church forbids almost all divorce, meaning leaving the religion is sometimes the only option to escape an abusive or unhappy marriage.



The two women have since been secluded with Coptic Church authorities. Islamic hard-liners in Egypt have held frequent protests in past months, accusing the Church of imprisoning the women and forcing them to renounce Islam and return to Christianity.



Al Qaida in Iraq says it is carrying out attacks on Christians in that country until Egyptian Church officials release the two women. The Church denies holding the women against their will.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links