Twenty-one people are dead and eighty-three injured in an apparent suicide attack outside a Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Egypt. The bombing occurred during the New Year’s Eve mass at the Saint Paul and Peter Church, just twenty minutes into the new year.
Early reports suggested that a car bomb was the source of the attack. However, a preliminary investigation by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry revealed that a suicide bomber might be responsible.
“It is likely that the device which exploded was carried by a suicide bomber who died among the others,” says a report by the Foreign Ministry.
While various terrorist groups, including al-Qā‘idah, have claimed responsibility for the attack, some in the Egyptian government blame al-Qā‘idah, saying that it is an attack on Egyptian national unity and security.
"The al-Qā‘idah organization threatened to attack churches inside Egypt. This has nothing to do with sectarianism,” says Alexandria Governor ‘Ādil Labīb.
Al-Qā‘idah in Iraq had previously threatened Coptic Orthodox Christians for the church’s alleged imprisonment of two Christian women who attempted to convert to Islam. Al-Qā‘idah made the threat after an attack on Bahgdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Church in October, which left 68 worshippers dead.
However, in a statement issued Saturday evening, the Coptic Orthodox church seems to reject the notion that the attack was carried out by foreigners.
"The attack came as a result of the continuous sectarian agitation that has been fuming in the last months," the church's statement said.
The New Year’s Day attack cames despite increased security measures by state police. An unnamed state security source told Al-Misrī al-Yawm that video cameras had recently been installed “inside and outside churches” ahead of New Year’s celebrations.
The Saint Paul and Peter Church in Alexandria suffered a previous attack in 2006, when Mahmūd Salāh al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Rāziq ran into the facility and stabbed three churchgoers, killing one person.
According to alJazeera, eight Muslims were also wounded in last night’s attack. The blast also severely damaged the nearby Sharq al-Madīnah mosque.
Muslims and Christians rioters took to the streets immediately after the attacks, chanting sectarian slogans. The Associated Press reports that the groups threw bottles and stones at each other until police dispersed the rioters with tear gas.
Protests continued into the afternoon on New Year’s Day, with police also using rubber bullets to control the crowds. Four protestors were reportedly seriously injured in the riots.
Some of the Christian rioters that formed immediately after the attack claim to have heard “Come, Jihād” during the closing line of the prayer of the mosque nearby.
Initial reports also said that the car originally though to be used in the blast contained the phrase, “The Rest is Yet to Come,” suggesting that additional attacks were imminent.
The attacks come almost exactly a year after gunmen killed six Copts and one Muslim outside a Coptic Orthodox Church during Christmas Eve celebrations in Naj‘ Hammādī.Meanwhile, Pope Shenouda, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, has cancelled Coptic Christmas celebrations out of solidarity for the victims.