Tuesday, January 04, 2011
By Marwa Awad
CAIRO: Egypt is screening people who arrived recently from countries where Al-Qaeda is known to recruit after early findings suggested the network was behind a New Year’s church bombing, security sources said Monday as the country went on high alert ahead of the Coptic Christmas.
A suspected suicide bomber killed 21 people and wounded 97 outside a Coptic church in the Nile delta city of Alexandria during a New Year’s midnight service. The authorities have been holding seven people for questioning.
The bombing prompted protests in parts of Cairo and Alexandria. Hundreds of Christians in Muslim-majority Egypt took to the streets over the weekend to protest against what they say is the failure of authorities to protect them.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abul Gheit arrived in Tunis Monday for talks with his counterpart Kamel Morjane in the wake of the attack.
Tunisia and Egypt collaborate on fighting terrorism and insurgency and the Arab Interior Ministers Council is based in the Tunisian capital.
Abul Gheit said the visit was aimed at “buttressing the privileged fraternal ties,” and a “consolidation of the traditional political consultations,” Tunisia’s T.A.P. news agency said.
Condemnation of the attack continued Monday with Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti describing the bombing as an act aimed at stirring sectarian tension, state news agency S.P.A. reported Monday.
These attacks “carried out by the enemies of Islam aim to … turn non-Muslims against Muslims,” it quoted Sheikh al-Sheikh as saying.
Such acts, he said, “do not serve Islam and have no link to it,” adding that they also aim to “weaken the Muslim nation and cause chaos.”
In Egypt, protests continued Monday in two areas of Cairo, Reuters correspondents at the scene and security sources said. Hundreds of Christians protested in Cairo’s Shubra district, which has a large Christian population and many churches, while a similar protest erupted on Cairo’s ring road highway.
The highway protesters were seen throwing stones and setting car tires on fire and using them to block the road. Both groups were chanting “with soul and blood, we will redeem the cross.” Police managed to disperse both crowds.
Egyptian officials have said there were indications “foreign elements” were behind the church blast and said the attack seemed to have been the work of a suicide bomber. “The security forces have confirmed that finger of suspicion indicates that the culprit was a suicide bomber linked to Al-Qaeda,” a security source, who asked not to be identified, said.
Another source said police had stepped up security at Egypt’s ports and airports to prevent anyone who might have been involved from fleeing as the investigation continues. Egyptian security also canceled leave for senior officers.
“Security is preparing a list of those who have arrived in Egypt recently from countries where Al-Qaeda is known to recruit operatives,” the second security source said. Security was also to be beefed up at churches for Christmas which Copts celebrate Jan. 7, security officials said.
Another security official said Monday the investigation into the identity of the perpetrator is now focusing on the final unidentified set of remains, including a severed head, the official said speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still underway.
The crime lab investigation found the explosives used were locally made using TNT explosives and were filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize the number of casualties. Also, the forensic report showed that most of the victims died of wounds sustained from the explosion, while some perished from burns.
Two dozen people were arrested in the aftermath, mostly owners of cars parked outside the church.
The attack came two months after Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in Iraq attacked a Baghdad church and threatened to strike Coptic churches in Egypt, accusing the Egyptian Christian denomination of mistreating female converts to Islam.
Two weeks ago, a statement on Islamist Web sites urged Muslims to attack Coptic churches in Egypt and among Egyptian Christian communities in Germany, France, Britain and elsewhere around Coptic Christmas.
A statement after the blast on another Islamist Web site read: “This is the first drop of heavy rain, hand over our prisoners and turn to Islam.” – With agencies