Egyptian police detained 17 suspects after a bomb blast killed 21 people outside a church in Alexandria, Al Jazeera television reported, citing unidentified security officials.
The explosion early yesterday injured more than 90 people, according to the Health Ministry. President Hosni Mubarak blamed the attack on “foreign elements.” The Interior Ministry said it increased security around churches “in light of the escalating threats from al-Qaeda to many countries,” according to a statement on its website.
Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq said in November it would attack Christian sites after it claimed Egypt’s Coptic Church was holding two Christian women who had converted to Islam. The church has denied this charge. No group has claimed responsibility for the blast.
“The technical aspects of the execution, the large number of victims and the threats of al-Qaeda in Iraq all point to al-Qaeda’a fingerprints,” Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamist groups at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, wrote in an editorial in Al Shorouk newspaper.
Egypt’s benchmark EGX30 stock index fell 0.6 percent to 7,100.60 at 1:15 p.m. in Cairo.
“You might see more impact this week with the return of investors and clients to their offices” after the holidays, Mohamed Radwan, a trader at Cairo-based Pharos Holding said. “Bear in mind that terrorist attacks are common globally nowadays unlike a decade ago.”
Analysts, including Rashwan, have previously said that they didn’t see signs of an organized al Qaeda presence in Egypt. The group’s deputy leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, is Egyptian.
Police waged a war against Islamist militants, mainly in southern Egypt, during the 1990s. In 1997, militants killed more than 60 tourists in the ancient city of Luxor, sparking a security crackdown that brought attacks to a halt.
That respite ended with a series of bombings from 2004 to 2006 targeting resorts in the Sinai Peninsula, killing more than 100 Egyptian and foreign tourists. The three attacks in Sinai, which police blamed on a previously unknown local group, occurred on the eve of national holidays. More than 20 people died in a 2006 bombing in the resort of Dahab, a year after more than 60 were killed in a similar incident in Sharm El-Sheikh.
The day following the bombing in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egyptian stocks fell 3 percent and they declined 1.6 percent after the attack in Dahab, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The explosion in Alexandria was likely carried out by a suicide bomber who was also killed in the blast, the Interior Ministry said.
“It has been confirmed that the epicenter of the blast wasn’t in one of the cars or the road,” the ministry said.
Mubarak, in a televised speech, vowed to find those responsible for the attack.
“You are making a grave mistake if you think that you will be spared the punishment of Egyptians,” he said.
Scores of Christians protested in Alexandria after the attack, pelting police with stones, television footage showed. Tension between Christians and Muslims has been building over several years in the Muslim-dominated country.
Copts account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million people. The Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in Alexandria in the first century by Mark, one of the apostles of Jesus. After an Arab army conquered Egypt in the seventh century, Islam gradually became the country’s dominant religion.
In January 2010, six Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a church in southern Egypt, and in November police killed a protester during clashes with Copts triggered by the halt of the construction of a church.
Egypt, set to hold a presidential election in September, relies on tourism as a main source for foreign currency along with foreign direct investment and revenue from the Suez Canal.
Tourism accounts for 13 percent of jobs in the Arab country. The government aims to attract 16 million tourists in 2011, bringing in $14 billion in revenue, Tourism Minister Zoheir Garranah said in an interview in October.