Tight security in Egypt ahead of Coptic masses

Thursday, January 6, 2011

CAIRO - The Egyptian government ordered extra security and blocked cars from parking near churches as Coptic Christians prepared Thursday to attend Christmas Eve masses, less than a week after a deadly bombing targeted one of their churches in Alexandria.

The country has been on high alert ever since a suspected suicide bomber detonated a nail-packed bomb at the church on New Year’s Eve, killing 23 people and injuring up to 100.

Copts, who make up 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s population, celebrate Christmas Jan 7, with a mass typically held the night before.

Pope Shenouda III, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, is expected to give an evening sermon at Cairo’s main cathedral, which Muslim politicians, ministers and ambassadors will also attend to show unity, according to the state-run al-Ahram newspaper.

“We must be alert to all kinds of discrepancies taking place in our society. We should face problems and work on solving them because if we just ignore them, it will get worse,” the patriarch said earlier this week in an interview on Egyptian state television.

Tens of thousands of people have joined forces on the internet, especially through the popular Facebook networking website, to call on Muslims to gather outside churches during Thursday’s evening mass as a show of support and ask people to wear black on Christmas Day.

Loudspeakers atop a mosque in the Heliopolis neighbourhood of Cairo notified residents that gifts were available for distribution to Christian neighbours.

Earlier Thursday, Egyptian newspapers had published a digital sketch created by authorities of the man suspected to be behind the Alexandria church bombing.

The bomber is believed to have been between 23 and 25 years old, according to al-Ahram.

A bag believed to have contained between 20 and 25 kg of explosives was found near the remains of the suspected bomber, authorities said.

Investigators created the sketch based on pieces of evidence found at the bombing site, including parts of the dead bomber’s face.

A picture of his severed head was published in several Egyptian newspapers alongside the digital sketch.

Daily protests have taken place throughout the country since the attack, with a number of both Muslim and Christian demonstrators injured in clashes with police and others arrested.

Filed under: Terrorism

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