Christians clashed with security forces after the New Year’s Eve church bombing [Reuters]
Egypt’s government has blamed a Gaza-based group for a New Year’s Eve church bombing that killed 24 Coptic Christians in Alexandria.
Interior minister Habib al-Adly said on Sunday that “conclusive evidence” proved the Army of Islam planned and executed the attack on al-Kidiseen Church, which also left scores wounded.
The group quickly denied responsibility, while also reportedly expressing support for the bombing.
The attack was the worst act of sectarian violence in Egypt since a Muslim-Christian business dispute in 2000 led to anti-Christian riots in the southern town of el-Kosheh and left 21 Copts dead.
The bombing also sparked days of Coptic rioting and weeks of co-religious demonstrations in support of Christians and against a government many blame for failing to protect its Coptic minority, which many estimate makes up around 10 per cent of the population.
Adly, who made the accusation during a speech marking Egypt’s Police Day that was also attended by president Hosni Mubarak, also claimed that the group had recruited Egyptians to help plan and carry out the attack.
Mubarak has said since the day after the attack that foreign forces were responsible.
The Army of Islam, based in the Gaza Strip, is an umbrella name for a number of groups that have splintered in recent years. The groups are reported to hold to a strict, Salafi interpretation of Islam.
Mumtaz Doghmosh, the leader of the group’s main faction, told Al Jazeera that the Army of Islam had no connection with the attack, according to spokesman Abu Mousab.
But the Reuters news agency also quoted a spokesman for the group who said “we praise those who did it”.
Hamas expresses concern
The Army of Islam does not believe in reconciliation or a truce with Israel, unlike the Palestinian political movement Hamas, which has held de facto rule over Gaza since winning Palestinian elections but clashing with rival faction Fatah in 2007.
In a statement on Sunday, Hamas expressed concern with the accusations against the Army of Islam and called on Egypt to share its information regarding the attack.
“Hamas is leading a resistance against the Zionist occupation inside Palestine and will never allow it to move outside Palestine,” the statement read.
“Egyptian and Arab security is one of our top priorities. We consider the Arab nations our strategic depth and we would not accept anyone to touch their security.
“We call on Egypt to co-operate with the Palestinian government and check their information.”