Bomb hits Egypt church at New Year’s Mass, 5 dead

CAIRO—An emergency official says five people have been killed in an explosion that went off at a Coptic Christian church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria early Saturday.

The blast went off about a half-hour after midnight early Saturday as worshippers were emerging from a New Year’s Mass at the Saints Church in Alexandria. Police say the blast came from a car parked outside the church, but police said they were still investigating whether the car had been rigged with explosives or if a bomb had been placed under it.

The emergency official says five people were killed the blast. Police said there were wounded, but did not have an immediate number. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

CAIRO (AP)—An explosion went off in front of a Coptic Christian church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria early Saturday, hitting worshippers emerging from a New Year’s Mass, police said.

Police said there were injuries from the blast, but the number was not immediately known. Witnesses reported seeing the bodies of several dead, but the deaths were not immediately confirmed.

The blast went off about a half-hour after midnight as worshippers were emerging from a New Year’s Mass at the Saints Church in Alexandria. The blast came from a car parked outside the

church, but police said they were still investigating whether the car had been rigged with explosives or if a bomb had been placed under it.

After the explosion, some Christians from the church clashed with police in anger over the blast, a police official said. The Christians hurled stones at police and a nearby mosque, chanting, “With our blood and soul, we redeem the cross,” the witnesses said.

The police official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

The Saints Church came under attack before when a man with a knife stabbed worshippers in April 2006.

The attack comes at a time of heightened sectarian tensions in the region, when al-Qaida-linked militants have carried out a campaign of attacks against Christians in Iraq, killing 68 in a church siege in October and two more Christians in attacks in Baghdad on Thursday.

The attacks in Iraq have an unusual connection to Egypt. Al-Qaida in Iraq says it is carrying out the campaign of anti-Christian attacks in the name of two Egyptian Christian women who reportedly converted to Islam in order to get divorces from their husbands.

The two women have since been secluded with Coptic Church authorities. Islamic hard-liners in Egypt have held frequent protests in past months, accusing the Church of imprisoning the women and forcing them to renounce Islam and return to Christianity. Al-Qaida in Iraq says it is carrying out attacks on Christians in that country until Egyptian Church officials release the two women. The Church denies holding the women against their will.

Christians are believed to make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of nearly 80 million people, and the country has seen increasing sectarian tensions. In January 2009, seven Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting on a church in southern Egypt during celebrations for the Orthodox Coptic Christmas, but bombings against churches have been rare in recent years.

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