Egypt: Al-Qaeda linked group in Gaza behind Alex church bombing

An Al-Qaida-linked group in Gaza was behind the New Year's Day suicide bombing that killed at least 21 Christians and wounded about a hundred outside a church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, the country's interior minister Habib al-Adly announced Sunday.

Al-Adly said "conclusive evidence" showed that the shadowy, Gaza-based Army of Islam was behind the planning and execution of the attack, which sparked three days of Coptic rioting in Cairo and several other cities. It was the deadliest attack against Copts in Egypt in more than a decade.

He also suggested that the group recruited Egyptians in the planning and execution of the attack, but that this could not conceal the role it played in the "callous and terrorist" act.

The state-run media said al-Adli briefed President Hosni Mubarak on the evidence and the suspects' confessions before the start of the Police Day celebrations.

The bombing led to violent clashes between Coptic protesters and security, who were accused of failing to protect the Coptic community.

No organization has claimed responsibility, though the incident came two weeks after Al-Qaeda in Iraq said it would target Egyptian Copts if the Egyptian Coptic Church did not release female Muslim converts allegedly imprisoned in churches.

The identification of a foreign-based group as the perpetrator of the bombing provides authorities with key support to their contention that sectarianism was not behind violence against Copts and that Al-Qaeda has no significant foothold in Egypt.

Al-Adly's announcement came in an address he delivered during a ceremony marking "Police Day" that was attended by President Hosni Mubarak, cabinet ministers and top police officials.

In a separate address, Mubarak vowed that his government will "triumph over terror" and that he will do his utmost to maintain unity between Egyptians. Christians constitute roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s total population of over 80 million, and complain about discrimination in terms of church building and appointments to senior public posts.

"I will not be lenient with sectarian actions from either side and will confront their perpetrators with the might and decisiveness of the law," said Mubarak, Egypt's ruler of nearly 30 years. He had decisively crushed an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.

Security officials said an unspecified number of people have been detained in connection with the Alexandria bombing but gave no more details. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the information with the media.

The Army of Islam is thought to have participated in the kidnappings of Israeli soldier Sgt. Gilad Shalit in 2006 and BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who was later released.

Late last year, Israel killed three members of the group in separate airstrikes, alleging the men had planned to attack Israeli and American targets in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

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