A car bomb attack outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, that killed 21 people is thought to have been carried out by a suicide bomber. The blast took place less that two weeks after al Qaeda in Iraq threatened to kill Christians.
A car packed with explosives was detonated outside the Al Qiddissine church just after midnight on New Years Day as Coptic Christians were celebrating the new year. The massive blast destroyed the church and damaged a nearby mosque. In the explosion, 21 people were killed and more than 80 were wounded.
Egypt’s Interior Ministry said it believes the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, and that “foreign elements undertook planning and execution.”
“It is likely that the device which exploded was carried by a suicide bomber who died among others,” according to a statement released by the ministry.
The bombing occurred just 10 days after al Qaeda in Iraq issued a statement on the Internet threatening to attack churches in Iraq and kill Christians. In the statement, al Qaeda in Iraq said Christians must take several steps to avoid being targeted, and specifically mentioned Copts in Egypt.
“First, to publically disown what the lords of the Egyptian Church did in their war against
our sisters and brothers of those who converted to Islam, and criticize them,” the statement read, according to a translation of the statement by Flashpoint Partners, a consulting firm that tracks jihadist media.
Al Qaeda in Iraq released the statement almost two months after it carried out the Nov. 1 suicide assault on a Christian church in Baghdad. More than 52 Iraqis, mostly Christians, were killed in the siege.
Egyptian terrorist leadership has made attacks on Coptic Christians a cornerstone of its strategy. Back in 1981, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheikh” who is currently in US custody for his role in the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, advocated attacks on Coptic churches. In a fatwa, or religious edict, issued in the spring of that year, Rahman called for “the robbery and killing of Copts in furtherance of the jihad”. Rahman was the leader of the Tanzim al Jihad, the predecessor of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al Zawahiri’s terror group which merged with al Qaeda.
The attacks were likely carried out by al Qaeda offshoots related to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Egypt has banned the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and many of its leaders are in prison. Two al Qaeda-linked groups, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which is named after al Qaeda’s co-founder, and Tawhid and Jihad (Monotheism and Jihad) Group in Egypt, have claimed to have carried out attacks in Egypt since 2004.
In October 2004, three suicide attacks in the Sinai Peninsula at the Hilton Taba and at a campsite frequented by Israelis killed 34 people and wounded 171 more. Egyptian security forces claimed that a Palestinian named Iyad Saleh had recruited Egyptians and Bedouins to carry out attacks in Israel but attacked in Egypt instead.
In July 2005, 88 people were killed and more than 150 were wounded in a series of bombings at cafes and markets frequented by foreigners in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm al Sheikh. Both the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Tawhid and Jihad claimed they had carried out the Sharm al Sheikh bombings.
In April 2006, 23 people were killed and more than 80 were wounded in bombings at two cafes and a market in Dahab on the Gulf of Aqaba coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Tawid and Jihad in Egypt claimed it had carried out the bombings.