A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Coptic church in Egypt on Saturday, killing 21 people and wounding 79 in an attack President Hosni Mubarak said was the work of “foreign hands”.
There was no immediate claim, but Al-Qaeda 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.
The bombing in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria sparked fierce anger among Christians, who clashed with police and shouted slogans against the government. A Health Ministry official said 21 people were killed and 79 wounded, and the Interior Ministry said eight of those injured were Muslims.
A witness had told a private television he saw a car park outside the Al-Qiddissin (The Saints) church shortly after midnight, two men get out and the explosion happen immediately afterwards. But the Interior Ministry ruled out the hypotheses of a car bomb, saying 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 amount of harm, it added. Mr. Mubarak echoed that, saying the bombing bore the hallmark “of foreign hands”.
Some 15 hours after the bombing, growing numbers of Christians were continuing to vent their anger.
By mid-afternoon, hundreds of youths in small groups in the neighbourhood of the church were showering rocks and bottles on police, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.
The attack comes two months after gunmen stormed a Baghdad cathedral in an operation that left 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security forces dead. That was claimed by Al-Qaeda's Iraq affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq, which said its purpose was to force the release of the two women in Egypt.
The Copts account for up to 10 per cent of Egypt's 80-million population, and often complain of discrimination and have been the target of sectarian attacks.
Keywords: Egypt church explosion