EGYPT said a suicide bomber killed 21 people and wounded 79 outside a Coptic Christian church, in an attack President Hosni Mubarak said was the work of “foreign hands.”
Growing numbers of Christians were continuing to vent their anger yesterday over the bombing on Saturday of the al-Qiddissin (The Saints) Church in Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast.
Hundreds of youths in the neighbourhood of the church showered rocks and bottles on police, who responded with teargas and rubber-coated bullets.
“O Mubarak, the heart of the Copts is on fire,” they shouted as they darted in and out of side-streets to heckle police.
Others unfurled their fury at the “cowardly terrorists” and chanted: “The blood of the Copts is not cheap.”
At least 5000 people took part in funerals for the victims yesterday at a monastery outside Alexandria, where crowds of mourners shouted slogans and refused to accept official condolences.
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No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but al-Qa’ida has called for punishment of Egypt’s Copts over claims that two priests’ wives they say had converted to Islam were being held by the church against their will.
Pope Benedict XVI led international criticism of the attacks, urging Christians to remain strong in the face of intolerance and violence. The Pope used his New Year’s appeal at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to condemn a widening campaign against Christians in the Middle East.
“In the face of the threatening tensions of the moment, especially in the face of discrimination, of abuse of power and religious intolerance that today particularly strikes Christians, I again direct a pressing invitation not to yield to discouragement and resignation,” he said.
The Pope has repeatedly denounced a campaign against Christians in Iraq blamed on al-Qa’ida militants, including an October attack on a Baghdad Catholic church that claimed 68 lives, two of them priests.
An Egyptian Health Ministry official said 21 people were killed and 79 wounded, and the Interior Ministry said eight of those hurt were Muslims. That ministry said it was “probable that the bomb . . . was carried by a suicide bomber who died among the crowd”.
The device was packed with pieces of metal to cause the maximum harm, the ministry added.
And the circumstances of the explosion, “given the methods that currently prevail in terrorist activities at the global and regional level, clearly indicate” that the bombing was “planned and carried out by foreign elements”.
Mr Mubarak echoed that, saying the bombing bore the hallmark “of foreign hands”.
In televised remarks, he vowed to “cut off the head of the snake, confront terrorism and defeat it”.