Death toll in Egypt's church blast rises to 21

13:24, January 02, 2011      

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People gather after a car bomb exploded outside a church in Egypt's northern city of Alexandria, Jan. 1, 2011. (Xinhua/Karem Ahmed)

A bomb explosion in front of a church in Egypt's northern city of Alexandria killed 21 people and wounded 79 others, officials said.

Egypt's Health Ministry said that some 79 people were wounded in the attack.

A bomb went off at around 0:30 a.m. (2230 GMT Friday) Saturday at the All Saints Church while worshippers were leaving after they just ended a gathering for the New Year.

Egypt's Interior Ministry said earlier that the blast was believed to be a car bomb, but later said investigations showed it was probably carried out by a suicide bomber who died in the crowds.

Small clashes between Muslims and Christians followed the attack, but the situation has been put under control on Saturday morning.

"We were crossing the street when we heard a thunderous sound of explosion. I fell on the ground. Then I saw a car burning," said Nermin Nabil, a witness who was injured in the attack.

"You cannot imagine what we have seen there. There were scattered hands, legs, people on fire, intestines, etc. It was a horrible scene," Nabil said.

Amjad Zakariya, another witness, said he was standing at the security office outside the church when a blast took place and they all fell on the ground.

"After that, I managed to run and walk to the hospital, but I was shot in my leg before I reached the hospital gate. Afterwards, people carried me into the hospital," Zakariya said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has ordered a quick investigation into the bomb attack.

The president "urged Egyptian Muslims and Christians to unite in face of terrorism and those who target Egypt's security and stability," official MENA news agency said.

In a nationwide speech on Saturday afternoon, Mubarak said nobody will be allowed to defy Egypt's security and that the masterminds behind the attack would be tracked down.

Other senior officials, including Prime Minister Ahmed Mahmoud Mohamed Nazef, and religious figures, have expressed condemnation against the church attack.

The Coptic church was one of the two which were attacked in April 2006 by a mentally-ill man who, with a knife, killed an elder worshipper.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, which came about two months after the al-Qaida militant group in Iraq said in early November that Christians and their organizations have become "legitimate targets" after a two-day deadline expired for Egypt's Coptic churches to free two women allegedly held due to their conversion to Islam.

Coptic Christians account for about ten percent of Egypt's total population of nearly 80 million. Tensions between Muslims and Coptics happen sometimes in Egypt for a number of reasons, including religious conversions.

In late November, hundreds of Egyptian Coptic Christians clashed with police in Giza Governorate to protest the freeze of building a church, leaving one protester killed.

A few days before the November clash, Muslims set fire to some houses owned by the family of a Coptic man who was said to have an affair with a Muslim girl in southern Egypt.

The Egyptian government has been calling for and striving to achieve unity between the Muslim majority and the Coptics in the country.

Source: Xinhua

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