At least 21 people were killed and 79
injured when a bomb exploded outside a Coptic Christian church
in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria in the deadliest
terrorist attack in Egypt since 2006.
The blast occurred after midnight as worshipers were
leaving a New Year’s service, the Interior Ministry said in a
statement on its website. “Foreign elements” appear to have
been responsible for the blast, the ministry said, adding that
it has beefed up security around churches nationwide “in light
of the escalating threats from al-Qaeda to many countries.”
Al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq said in November it would attack
Christian targets after it claimed Egypt’s Coptic Church was
holding two women who had converted to Islam. The Church has
denied this charge. No group has claimed responsibility for
The attack is likely to deepen tensions between Muslims
and Christians in Egypt, said Amr El-Shobaki, an expert on
Islamist groups at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political
and Strategic Studies. Confrontations between the two communities
have increased for several years.
“This will deepen the tension,” El-Shobaki said in a
telephone interview today. The attack bears the “fingerprints”
of al-Qaeda, he said. “It was either successful in planting a
cell in Egypt or recruited individuals to carry out a single
operation,” he said.
‘Cut Off the Hand’
The Egyptian government has previously said al-Qaeda has a
limited presence in the country. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin
Laden’s top deputy, is Egyptian.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to find those
responsible for the attack in a televised speech today. “We will
cut off the hand of terrorism,” he said.
Police fought a war with Islamist militants, mainly in
southern Egypt, during the 1990s. Attacks peaked in 1997 when
militants killed more than 60 tourists in the ancient city of
Today’s blast was the worst in Egypt since a series of
bombings between 2004 and 2006 in the Sinai peninsula killed
about 150 Egyptian and foreign tourists. Police blamed those
attacks on a previously unknown Sinai-based group.
The explosion in Alexandria was likely carried out by a
suicide bomber who was also killed in the blast, the Interior
The blast badly damaged other cars on the street,
television footage showed. Scores of Copts, encircled by
security forces, gathered before the church to protest the
In January 2010, six Christians were killed in a drive-by
shooting outside a church in southern Egypt, and in November
police killed a protester during clashes with Copts triggered by
a halt to the construction of a church.
Copts account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of
80 million people. The Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in
Alexandria in the first century by Mark, one of the apostles of
Jesus. After an Arab army conquered Egypt in the seventh
century, Islam gradually became the country’s dominant religion.
Mubarak described the explosion as a “terrorist attack,”
his spokesman Suleiman Awwad said in an e-mail. “The president,
while expressing his condolences to the victims’ families, urges
Egyptians Muslims and Coptic Christians alike to stand united
against terrorism,” Awwad said.
Presidential elections in Egypt are scheduled to occur in