Global Church Body Condemns 'Vicious Attack' in Egypt

The World Council of Churches, which represents more than 560 million Christians, condemned Saturday the New Year's Day bombing of a Coptic church that killed at least 21 people and wounded 97.

It described the incident as a "vicious attack on innocent worshippers" attending the New Year's midnight mass at Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt. WCC general secretary, the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, sent general condolences and prayers on behalf of the ecumenical body to the families of the victims.

WCC calls on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, religious leaders, and governments across the region to safeguard the fundamental religious rights of worshippers of all faiths.

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"Government action must be matched by solidarity among Muslims, Christians and people of all faiths as they interact at the local level and together denounce any violent attack," said Tveit. "We expect leaders to join once again in condemning such acts."

An explosion, suspected to be triggered by a suicide bomber, took place outside of a Coptic Christian church as people were exiting. It is the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt in recent years.

President Obama strongly condemned the bombing in a statement released Saturday. The European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton also condemned the bombing, saying there cannot be any justification for the attack.

Authorities are reportedly holding seven people for questioning in connection to the church bombing, a security source told Reuters Sunday.

Coptic Christians have responded by gathering Sunday outside the church and demanding the state and church do more to protect believers. Protesters pointed out that al Qaida had threatened harm to the Egyptian Christian community a month ago but the government did nothing to prevent this weekend's bombing.

Early last January, gunmen also opened fire on Coptic Orthodox Christians coming out of a Christmas Day mass, killing six Christians and a Muslim security guard, in the southern town of Nagaa Hammadi.

Christians make up somewhere between eight and 12 percent of Egypt's population of 79 million. Historically, Christians and Muslims have lived in relative harmony, but in recent years there has been increasing tension and violence between the two communities.

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