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Anti-Christian drumbeat loud before Egypt attack

ICC Note:

Only a few days prior to the bombing of a church in Alexandria that killed twenty-one Christians, several Salafis were arrested in Alexandria for distributing fliers inciting violence against Christians. Salafis, it is feared, may be the Islamic hardliners in Egypt responsible for the attack. Coptic Christians in the country complain that the government has tacitly allowed the growth of Salafism because it does not interfere with Egypt’s politics.

1/6/2011 Egypt (AP) — In the weeks before the New Year’s Day suicide bombing of an Egyptian church, al-Qaida-linked websites carried a how-to manual on “destroying the cross,” complete with videos on how to build a bomb and the locations of churches to target — including the one that was attacked.

They may have found a receptive audience in Alexandria, where increasingly radicalized Islamic hard-liners have been holding weekly anti-Christian demonstrations, filled with venomous slogans against the minority community.

The blast, which struck Saturday as worshippers were leaving midnight Mass at the Mediterranean city’s Saints Church, killed 21 people.

President Hosni Mubarak has accused foreign groups of being behind the attack, which has sparked a wave of angry protests by Christians in Egypt.

But on the ground, investigators are searching in a different direction — scrutinizing homegrown hard-liners, known as Salafis, and the possibility they were inspired by al-Qaida.

Only two or three days before Saturday’s bombing, police arrested several Salafis spreading fliers in Alexandria calling for violence against Christians, a security official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

According to authorities, the strong belief among investigators is that local extremists who knew the area and the nature of their target were behind the blast. The Egyptian weekly Al-Youm Al-Saba said police were examining photos of the Salafis’ weekly protests for suspects.

In the weeks before the attack, al-Qaida militants on the Web spewing calls for “jihad,” or holy war, on Egypt’s Christians laid out everything anyone would need to carry out a bombing.

One widely circulated posting includes a so-called “Jihadi Encyclopedia for the Destruction of the Cross,” with a series of 10 videos describing how to build a bomb.

In the videos, an unidentified militant in a white lab coat and a black mask is shown listing the ingredients to make TNT and mixing up the chemicals in beakers.

The site lists Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, along with phone numbers and addresses — including Alexandria’s Saints Church. “Blow up the churches while they are celebrating Christmas or any other time when the churches are packed,” it says.

Security officials say they were aware of the online “how-to manual” before the church bombing and are examining any links between it and the material posted on Islamic websites.

One main Salafi group, the Salafi Movement in Alexandria, issued a statement condemning the bombing, saying its preachings “reject such practices.”

The ultra-conservative Salafi ideology has been gaining followers throughout Egypt in recent years, preaching a return to the ways of early Muslims. It calls for strict segregation of the sexes and rejection of any religious “innovations,” such as permitting boys and girls to attend school together or collecting interest on bank loans.

The movement has spread across class lines, among wealthy businessmen, the middle class and urban poor. Men grow long beards and shave off mustaches, to imitate the Prophet Muhammad. Women wear the black niqab robes and veil, which envelop the entire body and face, showing only the eyes.

In many ways, it resembles the doctrine of al-Qaida, with one major difference — while it advocates jihad against “foreign occupiers” in Iraq or Afghanistan, it rejects holy war inside Egypt, at least for now.

But many observers warn that some members are growing more radicalized and have begun to advocate jihad within the country, providing fertile ground for al-Qaida influence.

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