Egypt church bombing probe focuses on local group
The attack only served to heighten tensions that have been growing in recent years between Christians and Muslims. Those tensions were on display in the center of the capital, Cairo, on Sunday, where about 2,000 riot police were deployed outside the city’s landmark TV and radio building as scores of protesters carrying large wooden crosses marched nearby but never made it to the building.
Christians staged demonstrations in at least three cities to protest what they see as the government’s failure to protect their community, but police moved quickly to break up the gatherings.
In Alexandria, about 500 Christians staged a noisy protest near the bombed church. Riot police outnumbered them by at least two to one and prevented them from moving elsewhere. Police arrested and beat up three demonstrators, according to witnesses.
“We are not going to remain silent,” the protesters chanted.
There were several small and tightly guarded demonstrations in Cairo.
Aida Seif al-Dawla, a veteran activist at one of them, called for the interior minister to be held accountable for the failure to protect the church.
Sally Moore, another Christian protester, said Muslim and Coptic protesters are planning to form a “human shield” outside major churches in Cairo on Coptic Christmas Eve on Jan. 6 in a show of solidarity.
“The security is protecting the regime, not the people, not the churches,” she said.
Inside the Saints Church, the floor was still stained with blood, two statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary were toppled and benches were scattered by the impact of the blast. A wooden cross hanging on the church gate was covered with a white sheet stained with victims’ blood, and bits of human flesh remained stuck on the gate. Young Christian men prevented cleaners from removing the flesh.
“Leave them. This is pure blood,” one of the men shouted.
Father Maqar, who led the service, did not give a sermon, preferring to express his grief with silence.
“I tell Christians to pray and pray to ease their agony,” he told the Associated Press after the service.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said the attack “offends God and all of humanity.”
Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, Grand Sheik of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, visited Pope Shenouda III, spiritual leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Copts, at his Cairo headquarters on Sunday to offer his condolences. Several dozen Christian demonstrators tried to block his car as he was leaving but were prevented by security guards.
Hamza Hendawi reported from Cairo.