ANTELLIAS, Lebanon (Combined Sources)— His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia has condemned a deadly car bomb attack at the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt that killed at least 25 people during a midnight mass on New Year’s Day.
“No religion forgives the perpetrators of such a violent act,” the Catholicos said, upon hearing the news of the explosion. “Copts and Muslims in Egypt have lived together for many centuries. We urge the Egyptian authorities to safeguard the internal cohesion of their country.”
Catholicos Aram I also wrote to His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, expressing his condolences.
The New Year’s Day bombing in the northern coastal city of Alexandria sparked calls for calm Sunday as Egyptian security officials scrambled to find suspects and the death toll rose to 25, according to a statement issued Sunday by the nation’s Coptic Orthodox Church, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Dozens more were injured in the blast, which occurred just minutes into the New Year and sparked clashes Saturday in Alexandria between police and Coptic Christians.
Authorities struggled to prevent any escalation of tensions between minority Christians and Muslims, who make up about 90 percent of the country. Minister of Information Anas Fikki issued a statement calling on television channels to avoid provocative commentary about the attack and “avoid delving into topics that could ignite sedition.”
The Coptic Church’s statement called the attack “a grave escalation” of violence against Christians and “a result of the current sectarian tensions between Muslims and Copts that recently erupted due to the spread of lies about the church and its symbols.”
Copts demanded a transparent and public investigation into the attack and called on authorities to release details about the crime as soon as possible.
Egyptian authorities said they had detained at least 17 people Sunday on suspicion of involvement in the attack. Ten were released, but seven remained in custody, according to the state-run Al Ahram newspaper and website.
In the capital, Cairo, and Alexandria, hundreds of Christians and Muslims took part in a demonstration Sunday to condemn the bombing, with calls of: “A Muslim and a Copt hand in hand to create a new dawn,” and “Not a police state, not a religious state, we want Egypt to be a secular state.”
The public shows of interfaith solidarity included politicians and civil-society activists who carried banners depicting the crescent along with the cross, a historical symbol of unity between Egyptian Muslims and Copts.
In Cairo’s Shubra district, one of the few areas of the capital where large communities of Copts live alongside Muslims, police swiftly surrounded protesters to prevent any clashes.
During the march, activists distributed fliers calling on Copts to boycott work for three days and to make Jan. 7, when Copts celebrate Christmas, a day of mourning.
The bombing drew widespread condemnation across the Middle East, including from Islamist political groups such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
It was the latest in a series of violent attacks in the Muslim world targeting Christian communities, already shrinking because of emigration.