Suicide bomber carried out Alex church attack, says ministry

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CAIRO: The explosion that left 21 dead and 79 injured outside a church in Alexandria was likely carried out by a suicide bomber, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement on Saturday.

Earlier reports had blamed a car bomb for the explosion that went off in the early hours of the new year, as worshipers were leaving the Al-Qeddessine (The Saints) Church after New Year’s Mass.

The ministry said initial findings indicate that the explosion started outside the two suspect cars. The bomber was killed in the explosion, it added.

The ministry reiterated earlier official statements that blamed “foreign elements” for masterminding and executing the attack.

“Given the methods that currently prevail in terrorist activities at the global and regional level, clearly indicate” that that the bombing was “planned and carried out by foreign elements,” it said.

The attack came in the wake of repeated threats by al-Qaida militants in Iraq to attack Egypt’s Christians. Egypt’s government has long denied that the terror network has a significant presence in the country. Al-Qaida in Iraq has already been waging a campaign of violence against Christians in that country and has made links to Egyptian sectarian issues. It cited claims that two priests’ wives they say had converted to Islam were being held by the church against their will.

Though the government denies an Al-Qaeda presence, Egypt does have a rising movement of Islamic hard-liners who, while they do not advocate violence, adhere to an ideology similar in other ways to al-Qaida, and there have been fears they could be further radicalized amid growing sectarian tensions between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Christian minority.

“This attack targets Egypt’s security as a whole,” said Bishop Armia, a senior aide to Pope Shenouda III, the spiritual leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Church. “God will protect us.”

President Hosni Mubarak sent his condolences to the victims’ families, asking Egyptians to stand united against terrorism. He said Egypt’s security is targeted.

Al-Azhar also condemned the attacks in a statement early Saturday. Al-Azhar spokesperson Refa’a El-Tahtawy asked Muslims and Christians to remain rational and calm and to ignore provocations.

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,” the witnesses said.

The protest sparked clashes with Muslims, as both sides began throwing stones and bottles at each other in the streets. –Additional reporting by Agencies



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