Church Bombing in Alexandria Kills 23, Triggering Protests

An explosion outside a Coptic church in Alexandria killed twenty-three people and wounded more than seventy others. The attack, which targeted a New Year’s service at the Church of Saints Mark and Peter (alternatively known as Saint Mark and Pope Peter or al-Qadiseen [the Two Saints]), was carried out by unknown assailants, though official suspicions fell on foreign Islamist terrorists. Initial reports from the scene indicated that the attack was made with a car bomb, though the Interior Ministry labeled it the work of a suicide bomber. The blast went off as worshippers were leaving a New Year’s Eve service that ended early on January 1. Damage to the exterior of the church was superficial but evident; blood stained the walls of the mosque across the street.

The government quickly appealed for unity, with President Hosni Mubarak appearing on television to denounce the incident. Mubarak blamed foreign elements and asked all Egyptians to band together to “cut off the head of the snake” and to “fight terrorism and defeat it.” Muslim religious leaders also condemned the violence, with the Muslim Brotherhood saying that no religion could condone the attack.

Christians, however, were not satisfied by the calls for unity. Later the same day, Christians gathered by the bombed church to protest. Some protesters chanted, “We sacrifice our blood and souls for the cross!” Christians and Muslims on the street threw rocks at each other after a mosque was reportedly attacked, leading security forces to use tear gas to disperse the crowds. The senior Coptic Church official in Alexandria, Archbishop Arweis, denounced the lack of police protection in front of the building before the bombing. Well-known journalist Hani Shukrallah, the editor-in-chief of al-Ahram Online, penned a blistering opinion piece accusing his countrymen of ignoring religious tension and being blind to their own prejudices.