Almost two dozen people were killed earlier this weekend in an attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, when a bomb exploded shortly after the New Year’s mass. Egypt’s Health Ministry says that at least 21 people were killed and 96 wounded. This is the worst attack against Egypt’s Christian minority in recent history. Nearly 1,000 people attended Mass at the church that night.
The Coptic Christian population, which numbers about 10 percent of Egyptians, is vulnerable to periodic violence which critics say the government ignores, or even exacerbates. Two altercations last year, one in southern Egypt and one in Cairo, left a handful of people dead.
It’s unclear what caused the bomb to explode, although the Interior Ministry says that investigations are pointing to a suicide bomber. The attack followed a kind of warning from overseas; a militant group called the Islamic State of Iraq posted on a website, promising more violence. They took credit for the attack on a Baghdad church in October.
However, there’s still significant ambiguity about who caused the attack and why. According to the New York Times, Diaa Rashwan of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said that while Al Qaeda has no presence in Egypt, “This is a new method. It has Al Qaeda features. I think it is a group of Egyptians who were planning this for a while.”
In the aftermath of the attack, Christians were quick to say that Egyptians were behind the violence, while Muslims attributed it to outsiders. But whoever caused the attack, it’s clear that there are sectarian divisions which the government needs to address. I wrote earlier this month about Christians who have been forced by violence to flee Iraq, where they are even more of a minority than in Egypt; let’s hope that Egyptian Christians (or any other religious or ethnic minority) don’t start to feel the same kind of danger.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.