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Egypt church bombing: Why some point to Al Qaeda-linked group

At least 21 were killed in an Egypt church bombing early today that came just as 1,000 Coptic Christians were leaving a New Year's Eve mass in Alexandria.

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Using a knife, an Egyptian Christian tries to get inside a mosque beside a Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt, Jan. 1. A bomb killed at least 21 people outside the church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria early on New Year's Day. The Interior Ministry said a foreign-backed suicide bomber may have been responsible.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

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An Egypt church bombing today has raised fears that global terrorist organizations are exploiting the country's rising sectarian tension as justification for attacking Christians.

The powerful explosion took place outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria during a New Year's Eve mass early Saturday, killing at least 21 people and wounding more than 80. It came just as some of the worshipers, who numbered about 1,000, had begun to leave. Wrecked cars and debris were left scattered in the street.

Security authorities initially said the blast had come from a car bomb, but later said it appeared to have come from a suicide bomber, and not a car. A statement released by the Interior Ministry said the bomb was filled with nuts and bearings to kill as many as possible.

Egyptian authorities were quick to blame the attack on foreign terrorists, and denied that it was connected to sectarian tension.

In recent months, the Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq has repeatedly threatened to attack Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population, and has pointed to events in Egypt as justification for attacking Christians in Iraq.

Egyptian leaders call for unity

President Hosni Mubarak gave a televised speech Saturday calling the perpetrators “wicked terrorists” and insisting the attack bore the hallmarks of foreign hands.

Official statements sought to portray the bombing as an attack on all Egypt, and called on Egyptians to come together in a unified response. Muslim leaders released statements condemning the attack.

But Copts gathered outside the church and the hospital where many of the wounded were being held angrily accused the government of doing little to protect them. Police reportedly used rubber bullets and tear gas against the protesters, at least one of whom held a white sheet with a cross that appeared to have been painted with blood.

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