Egyptian riot police clash with Christians - Reuters - Jan. 1, 2011
Egyptian riot police clash with Christians in front of the Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria on Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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AP
Worshippers shout around an exploded car in front of a Coptic Christian church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Egypt, early Saturday Jan. 1, 2011. Photo by AP

Egypt's president said in a televised address on Saturday that he would "cut off the hand of terrorism" after a church bombing killed at least 17 people shortly after midnight Saturday.

"Wicked terrorists targeted the nation, Copts and Muslims," President Hosni Mubarak said in the broadcast on state television, adding that the terrorists would fail in any plans to destabilize Egypt or divide Muslims and Christians.

A car bomb exploded outside a church in the early hours of Saturday, targeting worshippers who gathered to mark the New Year in Egypt's northern city of Alexandria. At least 17 people were killed in the attack and 43 wounded. Reports have relayed Egypt's suspicion that "foreign hands" were behind the attack.

The attack led to an outbreak in violence with Christians taking to the street in protest. Witnesses said Christians and Muslims pelted each other with rocks and cars were torched.

Christians make up about 10 percent of the 79 million people in Muslim-majority Egypt. Officials are usually swift to play down incidents that could hurt relations between the two communities which sometimes flare into communal violence.

The bombing drew blanket condemnation throughout the Middle East, with countries rejecting terrorism and offering condolences to the families of the victims.

"The United Arab Emirates denounces that despicable act that led to the killing and injuring of several innocent citizens of Egypt. The UAE rejects terrorism in all its forms and totally condemns targeting of places of worship," Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said.

"Such terrorist acts are yet another evidence that concerted international efforts are needed to confront and combat terrorism, no matter where it comes from or what its motifs are," he added.

Saudi Arabia expressed its condolences for the victims, wished a speedy recovery for the injured and condemned the "criminal act which is neither acceptable by Islam nor by global ethics."

An official Syrian source told the German Press Agency dpa that his country condemns such "terrorist crimes, which targets national unity and religious pluralism in neighboring Egypt as well as other Arab countries.

"Syria will stand by Egypt in confronting and combating terrorism, and all that harms Egypt's national unity," the source added.

The Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa called on "Copts and Muslims, to join their efforts in order to be able to face the dangers that aim at undermining Egypt's security and stability," adding that this is the only way to confront those "evil attempts."

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, condemned the "suspicious" blast, which "targets the sanctity and security of the country."

The pope in Italy also condemned the attack, calling on Christians worldwide to not "give in to discouragement and resignation" in the face of persecution.

In November in Egypt, hundreds of Christians clashed with riot police, as well as some Muslims, during a protest over a decision to halt construction of a church. Officials said the church did not have a license to be built.

Two Christians died as a result of those clashes and dozens were hurt, medical sources said. More than 150 were detained.

Analysts say the state must address grievances such as those over laws making it easier to build a mosque than a church if it wants to stem such sectarian violence.