Friday, January 7, 2011

Egypt fears Coptic Christmas bombings

Egyptian authorities are on high alert, on the eve of Coptic Christmas, for fear of another attack like the New Year's suicide bombing of a church that killed 21 people. Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

Egyptian authorities put up a heavy security cordon early Thursday around the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo hours before Christmas Eve Mass, hoping to prevent another attack like the New Year's suicide bombing of a church that killed 21 people.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq had threatened Christians in Iraq and Egypt in the weeks leading up to the holidays, and militant websites have even posted online lists of churches in Egypt to target with their addresses.

Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, which makes up 10 per cent of Egypt's 80 million people, celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. Some Christians have said they will skip Christmas Eve services for fear that there will be more attacks.

Across the country, police were preventing vehicles from parking near churches. They also planned to check identity cards of those entering churches and ban people from bringing in bags and purses.

Outside the Coptic cathedral in downtown Cairo, security officers with walkie-talkies fanned out across the surrounding streets to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

In the southern province of Minya, a worker at a church found a small explosive device packed with nails and fireworks planted under the building's stairs, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

He said the device appeared to have been put there to "test security measures."

Several daily newspapers reported that Egypt's Interior Ministry has asked church officials to prevent crowds from gathering in front of churches after Mass.

The request appeared aimed at avoiding the same sort of target hit in the Jan. 1 bombing in Alexandria — worshippers lingering outside of a church after a midnight service.

Six days after the bombing, Egyptian authorities appear to have made little headway in their investigation. The perceived lack of progress has fanned fears among many Christians of possible repeat attacks.

Those concerns have grown since several Coptic websites circulated statements allegedly posted on Islamic militant websites listing more than 40 other churches in Egypt and abroad as possible targets.


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