Church bloodbath ‘could have been worse’


ALEXANDRIA – “If the bishop had finished saying mass two minutes earlier, the bloodbath would have been worse,” said Nermin Nabil, who was wounded in a harrowing Coptic church bombing early on Saturday.
The New Year’s bombing killed 21 people and wounded 79 others, hitting Egypt’s Copts, the Middle East’s largest Christians community after they were threatened by Al-Qaeda just two months ago. It triggered angry protests by Copts who clashed with riot police outside the bloodied Al-Qiddissin (The Saints) church in the Sidi Bechr district of the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.
It was half past midnight when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the church as the first faithful emerged from New Year’s eve mass. The Interior Ministry said the bomb which was probably “carried by a suicide bomber who died among the crowd” was packed with pieces of metal to cause the maximum amount of harm.
It appears the attack was the first suicide bombing targeting Copts and it came just less than a year after six Christians worshippers were killed when they emerged from mass on Christmas Eve, which they celebrate January 7. Throughout the night worshippers who survived the attack were seen carrying victims on stretchers from the church to ambulances that waited to rush them to hospital under the gloom of darkness.
Nabil, a 30-year-old mother who suffered a leg injury, told AFP from her hospital bed that she had left the church “just two minutes before the bishop finished mass. Hundreds of people were still inside.” Outside the church bloodied items of clothes and a torn black handbag were scattered on the ground, blood stains were splattered inside the church and in an adjoining out-patient clinic.
Police investigators combed over the mangled remains of the destroyed car for clues that could help them zero in on the assailants, who had still not made themselves known several hours after the incident. Hundreds of angry Christians youths hurled stones and bottles at police who retaliated by firing tear gas grenades and rubber coated bullets. “O Mubarak, the hearts of the Copts are on fire,” they shouted, addressing themselves to President Hosni Mubarak.
“Where is the government,” protesters shouted. One demonstrator brandished a large cross to which were attached bloody remnants of victims’ clothing.
“With our soul and our blood we will redeem the Holy Cross,” they chanted.
Mubarak went on state television to offer his condolences to the Copts and pledged to “cut off the head of the snake, confront terrorism and defeat it”, saying the attack bore the hallmark of “foreign hands.”
But his words – and appeals for Muslims and Copts to unite amid reports that eight Muslims were among those hurt – apparently failed to contain the anger of the Copts.