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Christians, police clash after Egypt church bomb
At least 21 are dead and nearly 80 wounded
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (AP) — Christians clashed with Egyptian police in the northern city of Alexandria on Saturday, furious over an apparent suicide bombing against worshippers leaving a New Year’s Mass at a church that killed at least 21 people. It was the worst violence against the country’s Christian minority in a decade.
The Interior Ministry blamed “foreign elements,” and the Alexandria governor accused al Qaeda, pointing to the terror network’s branch in Iraq, which has carried out a string of attacks on Christians there and has threatened Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christian community as well.
Egypt's government has long insisted that the terror network does not have a significant presence in the country, and it has never been conclusively linked to any attacks here. If al Qaeda was involved, it raises the prospect of a serious new security threat within Egypt.
President Barack Obama condemned “this barbaric and heinous act” and said those behind it must be brought to justice.
It was dramatically different from past attacks on Christians, which included shootings but not serious bombings, much less suicide attacks. Christians have increasingly blamed the government for not taking violence against them or anti-Christian sentiment among Muslim hard-liners seriously.
In the wake of the New Year’s bombing, they unleashed their rage at authorities.
“Now it’s between Christians and the government, not between Muslims and Christians,” shrieked one Christian woman as several hundred young men clashed with helmeted riot police in the street outside the targeted church hours after the blast. As the rioters threw stones and bottles, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them. Some of the protesters beat Muslim passers-by.
Nearly 1,000 Christians were attending the midnight Mass at the Saints Church in the Mediterranean port of Alexandria, said Father Mena Adel, a priest at the church. The service had just ended, and some worshippers were leaving the building when the bomb went off about a half hour after midnight, he said.
“The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf,” Marco Boutros, a 17-year-old survivor, said from his hospital bed. “All I could see were body parts scattered all over — legs and bits of flesh.”
Blood splattered the facade of the church, a painting of Jesus inside, and a mosque across the street. The blast mangled at least six cars on the street, setting some ablaze. As bodies were taken away after daybreak, some in the congregation waved white sheets with the sign of the cross emblazoned on them with what appeared to be the victim’s blood.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that it was likely the blast was detonated by a suicide bomber and that the attack probably involved “foreign elements.” Investigators were examining two heads found at the site on suspicion at least one was the bomber, the state news agency MENA reported.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has made a series of threats against Christians. The latest just before Christmas led the Iraqi Christian community to cancel most holiday festivities. After militants attacked a church in Baghdad in October and killed 68 people, it threatened more attacks and linked the violence to two Egyptian Christian women who reportedly converted to Islam in order to get divorces, which are prohibited by the Coptic Church.
The women have since been secluded by the Church, prompting repeated protests by Islamic hard-liners in Egypt accusing the Church of imprisoning the women and forcing them to renounce Islam, a claim the Church denies.
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