Egyptian church blast deaths rise to 21

Jan. 1, 2011 at 9:13 PM
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ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- Thousands of people gathered in the rain Sunday to mourn 21 people killed in a bomb attack at an Egyptian Coptic Christian church in Alexandria.

AhramOnline reported the victims of the Saturday attack were buried at a monastery in the Alexandria suburb of King Maryout.

"We decided to bury them here, for security reasons," a gravedigger who preferred to remain anonymous told AhramOnline. "We were worried that if we bury them within Alexandria, some clashes would take place."

The Los Angeles Times reported officials said besides those killed 79 people were wounded.

The Egyptian news Web site Bikya Masr reported a preliminary report published by Egypt's Ministry of Interior late Saturday said authorities believe the attack was a suicide bomber, not a car bomb as initially reported.

The attack led to confrontations between police and Copts, the U.S. newspaper said. People threw stones and rushed a nearby mosque. Police responded by using tear gas to disperse the crowd, the Times said.

Bikya Masr said an unknown number of Copts had been arrested during the clashes.

President Hosni Mubarak later issued a statement calling for Christians and Muslims to "stand up" against religious violence, Voice of America reported.

His statement called for Egyptians "to close ranks and confront the forces of terrorism and those who want to undermine the security, stability and unity of the children of this nation," Egypt's MENA news agency said.

"This act of terrorism shook the country's conscience, shocked our feelings and hurt the hearts of Muslim and Coptic Egyptians," the Times quoted Mubarek as saying in the address to the nation. "The blood of their martyrs in the land of Alexandria mixed to tell us all that all Egypt is the target and that blind terrorism does not differentiate between a Copt and a Muslim."

The blast came a half hour into the New Year in the northern Egyptian port city in front of the Church of Two Saints, CNN reported.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack. VOA said there has been recent hostility in the area between Muslim and Christian groups over two Coptic women who converted to Islam.

Catholic Pope Benedict XVI called for "a concrete and constant effort from leaders of nations" to counter such attacks.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement condemning the attack in Egypt, along with another bombing that killed about 20 people in Nigeria. He offered both countries the United States' help in tracking down those responsible for the attacks.

"The perpetrators of this attack (in Egypt) were clearly targeting Christian worshipers, and have no respect for human life and dignity," Obama said. "They must be brought to justice for this barbaric and heinous act.

"The United States extends its deepest condolences to the families of those killed and to the wounded in both of these attacks, and we stand with the Nigerian and Egyptian people at this difficult time.

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