Dozens of grieving Christians attended the Divine Liturgy at the Saints Church in Egypt’s Mediterranean port city of Alexandria on Sunday, the day after 21 worshippers were killed there in an apparent suicide bombing.
The service was marked by the grief and anger felt by a congregation devastated by the attack, which took place outside the church’s door about 30 minutes into the new year as churchgoers were leaving.
Many sobbed while others cried hysterically and screamed in anger.
Some lamented that attacks on Christians and churches often happen during usually happy occasions like Christmas. Others complained that the government was not doing enough to protect churches.
Riot police backed by armoured vehicles were deployed outside the church on Sunday, however many felt it was too little, too late.
“There is a lack of security in Egypt. The Interior minister must be removed,” said one man who had lost a relative in the attack.
Rev. Maqar, who led the service, did not give a sermon, preferring to express his grief with silence.
“Is it possible that what happened is even remotely human? We were carrying dead bodies, but in pieces. Who can fathom such a thing? Who can tolerate it?” he said on Sunday.
Saturday’s attack, which left nearly 100 people injured, was the worst violence against Egypt’s Christian minority in a decade.
The Interior ministry blamed the bombing on “foreign elements.”
The Alexandria governor has accused al-Qaeda, pointing to the network’s branch in Iraq, which has attacked Christians there and threatened Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christian community.
Egypt’s government has long insisted that al-Qaeda does not have a significant presence in the country, and it has never been conclusively linked to any attacks there.
The bombing stoked tensions that have grown in recent years between Egypt’s Christians and the Muslim majority.
It was dramatically different from past attacks on Christians, which included some shootings but not serious bombings, much less suicide attacks.
Christians have increasingly accused the government of dismissing violence against them or anti-Christian sentiment among Muslim hardliners.
Christians, mainly Orthodox Copts, make up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s mainly Muslim population of nearly 80 million people, and they have increasingly complained about discrimination.
In November, hundreds of Christians rioted in Cairo, smashing cars and windows after police violently stopped the construction of a church.
The rare outbreak of Christian unrest in the capital left two people dead.
Saturday’s bombing was the deadliest violence involving Egypt’s Christians since at least 20 people, most of them Christians, were killed in sectarian clashes in a southern town in 1999.
In the most recent significant attack, seven Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting on a church in southern Egypt a year ago.