Faith Leaders Express Solidarity with Persecuted Coptic Church

Faith leaders across the spectrum are condemning the deadly attack against a Coptic congregation that killed at least 21 people and left 90 wounded.

"Christians, Jews and Muslims around the world are united by their outrage and condemnation of this soul-less act," said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

He expressed concerns that the bombing in Egypt would be viewed as just another conflict between religious groups.

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"It is simply agonizing to think that many around the world will mistake this horror as the attack of one religious community on another," he said.

An explosion went off shortly after midnight on January 1 during a New Year's Service at the Church of the Two Saints in the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt.

Investigations led by Egyptian authorities remain inconclusive as to whether the explosion was set off by a suicide bomber or a car bomb. So far, 17 suspects were detained, but most have been released after questioning.

Possible links to al-Qaida have also been suggested, with the al-Qaida branch in Iraq having recently declared war on Egyptian Christian sites. The church in Alexandria was among more than a dozen Coptic churches listed on an Islamist website affiliated with al-Qaida, according to CNN.

The list appeared early last month and called for the blowing up of the churches during their Christmas celebration when churches are typically crowded. Coptic churches celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs has expressed solidarity with the Coptic Church.

"We are pained to see the New Year begin with such blind hatred, bigotry, and wanton disregard for human life," said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. "The targeting of any people because of their faith is an attack on all people of faith and indeed all humanity. Coptic Christians have had a peaceful home in Egypt for centuries. Their pain is our pain."

Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, released a statement on Monday, calling the bombings "absolutely reprehensible."

Since the explosion, Christian Copts have launched street protests, some of which have turned violent. The ongoing demonstration has already lasted three days, with protesters expressing their anger towards the longstanding Mubarak government. Christians are accusing the party of failing to protect the Coptic minority against discrimination since it gained power in 1981 in the Muslim majority country.

The New Year's bombing has been labeled the most serious attack against Copts in recent times. Christians are refusing to tolerate further incidents being overlooked and are demanding for a stronger response by the government.

Earlier this week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to "cut off the hand of terrorism."

The incident follows a string of attacks against Copts leading up to the New Year, despite several calls to the government for justice.

Christians in Egypt account for eight to 12 percent of the population. Though they are constantly victimized within society and by the government, only recent reports of violence against the minority group have gained international attention.

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