The attack came following repeated threats from al-Qaida militants in
Iraq that they intended to attack Egypt's Christians. According to the
Los Angeles Times, the Ministry of Information stated that an unnamed
official had stated that this may have been the work of a suicide bomber
carried out by foreign terrorists.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Worshippers leaving a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt after a New Years Eve Mass became the victims of a car bomb that detonated in front of the building. The explosion, during the first hour of the New Year, left 21 dead, 79 injured and questions about possible involvement of al-Qaida.
All but eight of the injured and all the fatalities were Christians from Saints Church, located on the eastern side of the coastal city.
The state-run newspaper Al Ahram reported that an eyewitness stated "It was about 15 minutes after midnight when we heard the sound of the explosion. We came out of the church to find two cars on fire."
Sami Saad, who was inside the church at the time of the explosion, went on to say, "Everyone was frightened and people were screaming after we saw scattered parts of the dead bodies mixing with blood to cover the ground."
The pastor of the church, Fr. Mena Adel told the Malta Times, "I was inside the church and heard a huge explosion. People's bodies were in flames."
The attack came following repeated threats from al-Qaida militants in Iraq that they intended to attack Egypt's Christians. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Ministry of Information stated that an unnamed official had stated that this may have been the work of a suicide bomber carried out by foreign terrorists.
An attack by al-Qaida in Egypt would prove awkward to President Hosni Mubarak had explicitly stated on many occasions that the terrorist network did not have a significant presence in the country.
The bombing brought about a strong reaction from Christians who already feel they are being discriminated against by the Muslim majority and ignored by the government. Angry Copts clashed with police, hurling rocks and storming a mosque across the street where they threw some books into the street. Muslims retaliated by throwing stones and bottles at the Copts.
On Saturday afternoon, crowds of Christians demonstrated in the streets outside the church and a neighboring hospital, hurling stones at riot police, who opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas. According Al Ahram, an eyewitness told them that a priest from the church calmed the angry crowd and urged them to stay inside the church.
Pope Benedict denounced the violence against Christians during his New Year's Day homily on Saturday, saying, "Humanity ... cannot be allowed to become accustomed to discrimination, injustices and religious intolerance, which today strike Christians in a particular way."
In addressing Christians who live in areas where violence has erupted, the Pope stated, "Once again, I make a pressing appeal not to give in to discouragement and resignation."
President Mubarak condemned the attack according to a report from the official MENA news agency. He described this as a "criminal terrorist act" and also called on the Christians and Muslims "to close ranks and confront the forces of terrorism and those who want to undermine the security, stability and unity" of the country.
Islamic extremists who levied the threats, state that attacks will be carried out on behalf of two Egyptian Coptic women who reportedly converted to Islam in order to divorce their husbands. The women are allegedly being held by Coptic officials against their will. They state that attacks will continue until the women are released. The church has strenuously denied the accusation.
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