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Death Toll in Egypt Bombing Hits 23

ICC Note:

Egyptian government officials counted twenty-three dead from the suicide bombing outside a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day. The number is two higher than the original count. Most or all of those killed were Christians who were targeted by militants because of their faith.

By Matt Bradley

1/5/2011 Egypt (The Wall Street Journal) – The death toll from a New Year’s Day bombing outside a Coptic Christian church rose Tuesday by two, to 23, according to the government, as Egyptian security forces gird for Coptic Christmas, celebrated on Friday.

Since the early-morning bombing Saturday in the port city of Alexandria, Christian demonstrators have held protests across the country, criticizing what they say is the government’s inaction amid violence and alleged discrimination. Several protests have turned violent. State media reported clashes over the weekend and Monday, with more than a dozen injured police.

Details of the attack remain disputed. On Tuesday, it was still unclear if it was a car bombing, as authorities originally claimed, or a suicide bombing. Egypt’s government also initially blamed foreigners, casting suspicion on al Qaeda or one of its affiliates. More recently, government-owned newspapers have reported that investigators are now focusing on local militants, who may have been inspired by the global terror group.

Coptic Christians, who make up about 10% of Muslim-majority Egypt, have long blamed the government of President Hosni Mubarak for allowing, if not tacitly encouraging, discrimination against Christians. Saturday’s attack triggered more public criticism.

Egyptian law prohibits construction or maintenance of churches without permission from local authorities. The law has been used to stop or slow Christians from building churches or improving old ones.

In November, hundreds of young Coptic men rioted after local officials blocked construction of a church inside an existing Coptic community center in the Cairo suburb of Omraniya. Two Coptic men were killed, and 152 were arrested.

On Tuesday, Egypt’s attorney general released 23 Coptic protesters, whom police had held since the November rioting. And in another possible sign of conciliation on the government’s part, Egypt’s Shura Council, the country’s upper legislative house, on Monday discussed amending the statute dealing with church construction.

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