AT least 21 people attending a Catholic mass were killed and 79 injured when a bomb exploded outside an Alexandria church in the first hour of the New Year, Egyptian officials said.
However, authorities suspect a ‘foreign-backed suicide bomber’ could have triggered the explosion.
The blast struck Coptic worshipers as they exited the Qidiseen, or saints, church just after a New Year’s Eve mass in the eastern section of Alexandria, the ancient city along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast.
All but eight of the injured and all the fatalities were Christians. No one claimed immediate responsibility for the attack. The Ministry of Information quoted an unnamed official as saying a suicide bomber may have carried out the attack and ‘foreign terrorists’ were responsible.
The bombing sparked clashes between Copts and police. Security forces cordoned the scene and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Eyewitnesses said a priest calmed the angry Copts and urged them to stay inside the church.
Egypt is known for sectarian violence in recent years. Three Muslims are on trial for the killing of a six Copts and Muslim outside a church in the southern city of Nagaa Hammadi a year ago.
Conflicts are often the result of conversions by Muslims to Christianity and vice versa. With about 10% of the country’s population, Copts are Egypt’s largest religious minority and make up the largest Christian community in the middle east region.
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak called for peace after the bombings. In a televised address, he urged both Muslims and Coptic Christians to maintain peace.