Egypt: Deadly blast at Egyptian church leave 21 dead

By Nangayi Guyson – At least 21 people have been killed by a car bomb explosion outside a church in the north Egyptian city of Alexandria and leaving  43 injured, officials say.

The blast hit worshipers as they were celebrating  a new year’s service at the al-Qidiseen church shortly after midnight.

The Associated Press news agency  has reported that after the blast , angry Coptic Christians clashed with police and local Muslims, reportedly  throwing stones and targeting a nearby mosque which had also been damaged by the car bomb as they entered it ,throwing books out onto the street,

A large contingent of police rushed to the scene and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. The situation is reported to be under control now.

Sectarian tensions have recently been on the rise in Egypt but it is not yet  known who carried out the attack.

The health ministry said, the casualties included eight injured Muslims but according to correspondents, relatives are being denied access to the victims’ bodies at the morgue and it is not clear when they will be buried.

Christians in the Coptic Orthodox Church make up about 10% of Egypt’s population, most of whom are Muslims.

However, Christian-Muslim tensions have been growing, as Copts complain of discrimination, while some Muslims accuse churches of holding converts to Islam against their will, our correspondent reports.

The mayor of Alexandria, Gen Adel Labib, said on Egyptian TV that there had been recent threats of attacks on churches.

A local priest said the death toll from the blast would have been even higher had the explosion happened minutes later, after more people had left the service.

After the explosion, Christians were seen chanting beside a burnt-out car in front of the church: “We sacrifice our souls and blood for the Cross.”

Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also been conducting a campaign against Christians, following the reported conversion to Islam by two Egyptian Christian women in order to divorce their husbands. The group said the women were being held against their will by the Coptic Church.

Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city with a population of about four million, has seen sectarian violence in the past.

In 2006, there were days of clashes between Copts and Muslims after a Copt was stabbed to death during a knife attack on three of the city’s churches.