Egyptian lawyers blame Israel for church bombing

Counselors tell rally attack was Mossad reaction to uncovered spy ring; Egyptian authorities point towards al-Qaida involvement.

January 3, 2011 12:35
2 minute read.
Scene of the New Year's Coptic Church bombing

Copt chuch bombing Egypt Alexandria 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

A coalition of Egyptian lawyers accused Israel of being behind an terror attack in Alexandria that killed 22 members of the Christian Copt sect attending midnight mass on New Year's eve, Army Radio reported Monday.

"The Mossad carried out the the operation in a natural reaction to the latest uncovering of an Israeli espionage network," the lawyers accused at a rally in memory of the victims, organized by the Egyptian Bar Association, according to the report.

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At the gathering, aid to former Egyptian foreign minister Abdallah al-Ashal called for Cairo to reconsider its relations with Jerusalem, according to Army Radio.

Egyptian police were focusing their investigation into the New Year's suicide bombing on a group of Islamic hard-liners inspired by al-Qaida and based in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria where the attack killed 22 people, security officials said Sunday.

The bombing touched off riots and protests by Egypt's Christian minority, who feel they are targeted and discriminated against and do not get adequate protection from authorities. There were signs of beefed up security outside churches nationwide and dozens returned to pray Sunday in the bombed, blood-spattered Saints Church — many of them sobbing, screaming in anger and slapping themselves in grief.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Coptic Christians leaving a midnight Mass about a half hour into the new year Saturday, the worst attack on Egyptian Christians in a decade. In the immediate aftermath, President Hosni Mubarak blamed foreigners and the Alexandria governor accused al-Qaida, pointing to threats against Christians by the terror network's branch in Iraq.

But on Sunday, security officials said police are looking at the possibility that homegrown Islamic extremists were behind it, and perhaps were inspired by al-Qaida though not directly under foreign command.

Investigators were also examining lists of air passengers who arrived recently in Egypt from Iraq because al-Qaida in Iraq threatened Christians in both countries. They said they are looking for any evidence of an al-Qaida financier or organizer who may have visited Egypt to recruit the bomber and his support team from local militants.

Investigators were also examining two heads found at the site on suspicion that at least one was the bomber's, state news agency MENA reported. The crime lab investigation found the explosives used were locally made and were filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize the number of casualties.

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