(ADDS COMMENTS INTERIOR MINISTRY, PRESIDENT)
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday, January 1, urged citizens of all faiths, including Christian Copts and Muslims to resist “terrorist acts”, after a church bombing killed at least 21 people and injured nearly 80 others.
Witnesses said a powerful bomb, possibly from a suicide attacker, exploded just a half hour into the New Year in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria where worshipers had gathered to celebrate Mass on New Year’s Eve.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry said a foreign-backed suicide bomber may have been responsible.
Mubarak promised in a televised address that terrorists would not destabilize Egypt or divide Christians and Muslims. He said the attack “carries evidence of the involvement of foreign fingers” and vowed to pursue the perpetrators.
He said in a statement that he wanted to express his condolences to the families of the victims.
There was concern terror group al-Qaida was behind the blast, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The attack followed threats by al-Qaida militants in Iraq to attack Egypt’s Christians.
Commentators said a direct al-Qaida hand in the bombing would be a dramatic development, as the government of President Mubarak has long denied that the terror network has a significant presence in the country.
Al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq has already been waging a campaign of violence including bombings against Christians, prompting many to flee their homes, church leaders said. The militants say the attacks are in retaliation for two Egyptian Christian women who converted to Islam.
Al-Qaida says the women are being held hostage by the Christians for having converted, charges Christians have denied.
Saturday’s bombings in Egypt enraged Christians, who often complain of discrimination at the hands of Egypt’s Muslim majority and accuse the government of covering up attacks on their community.
Reporters witnesses heavy clashes Saturday afternoon in which crowds of Christian youths in the streets outside the church and a neighboring hospital hurled stones at riot police, who opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Most Christians in Egypt are known as Copts. Copt is a word derived from the Greek name Aigyptos, which means Egypt. Coptic Christians are believed to be among the largest and oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.
They comprise about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million people, according to several estimates. (With reports from Alexandria).