Monday, January 03, 2011
Grieving Egyptian Christians prayed Sunday at a church targeted by an apparent suicide bomber who killed 21 people, as Egypt accused “foreign elements” of being behind the attack amid an outpouring of international condemnation.
The bombing in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria struck worshippers as they were leaving midnight Mass Saturday at the Coptic church of Al-Qiddissin 30 minutes into the New Year.
An Egyptian security source said Sunday that Egypt is holding seven people for questioning over the bombing and has released 10 others.
Another source said questioning was continuing related to the attack.
He said a number of suspects had been detained and most were held briefly before being freed. “There are people being held and investigated. This is part of the investigations to reveal the mysterious circumstances of the incident and gather information,” said the second source, who declined to specify how many were being detained.
The suspected suicide bomber wounded 97 people in the blast, which prompted hundreds of Christians in Muslim-majority Egypt to protest against a failure of the authorities to protect them.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing. But President Hosni Mubarak blamed “foreign hands” and the Interior Ministry also blamed “foreign elements” – indicating Islamist militants such as Al-Qaeda.
Mubarak pledged in televised remarks that he will “cut off the head of the snake, confront terrorism and defeat it” and urged Egypt’s Christians and Muslims to unite in the face of a common enemy.
An Iraqi group linked to Al-Qaeda threatened the Church in Egypt with attack in November and a statement on an Islamist website, posted about two weeks before the Alexandria bombing, urged Muslims to attack Coptic churches in Egypt and elsewhere.
But security officials said police are looking at the possibility that homegrown Islamic extremists were behind it, and perhaps were inspired by Al-Qaeda though not directly under foreign command.
Investigators were also examining lists of air passengers who arrived recently in Egypt from Iraq because Al-Qaeda in Iraq threatened Christians in both countries. They said they are looking for any evidence of an Al-Qaeda financier or organizer who may have visited Egypt to recruit the bomber and his support team from local militants.
Investigators were examining two heads found at the site on suspicion that at least one was the bomber’s, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.
The crime lab investigation found the explosives used were locally made and were filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize the number of casualties.
Extra police officers were posted outside several churches in Cairo and Alexandria Sunday, preventing cars from parking next to the buildings, witnesses said.
Christian protesters heckled police Saturday and showered them with stones as they shouted slogans against Mubarak’s regime.
The protests ran on into Sunday. Hundreds of Copts gathered inside the gates of the St Mark Cathedral, where Pope Shenouda III has his headquarters, and heckled officials who came to pay their condolences. An AFP correspondent said protesters chased a minister to his car and pelted him with stones after he met Shenouda, and others clashed with police who stood outside the gates.
Egypt’s top Muslim cleric, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, also visited Pope Shenouda to offer his condolences. Several dozen Christian demonstrators tried to block his car as he was leaving but were prevented by security guards.
Pope Shenouda urged the state to quickly bring the culprits to justice, warning that failure to do so will lead to more “frustration.”
Saturday’s attack drew international condemnation, with Pope Benedict XVI urging world leaders to defend Christians against abuse and US President Barack Obama denouncing “this barbaric and heinous act.”
“This cowardly gesture of death, like that in which bombs were left near the homes of Christians in Iraq to force them to leave, is an offense against God and all humanity,” Benedict told hundreds of pilgrims in St Peter’s Square.
However, Tayeb criticized Pope Benedict’s call for world leaders to defend Christians as meddling in his country’s affairs. The call amounted to “unacceptable interference in Egypt’s affairs,” he said.
French Prime Minister Francois Fillon prayed Sunday for the victims at a church in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan where he was on a private visit, his office in Paris said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also condemned the attack describing it as “an awful crime.” – With agencies