Egypt says "foreign elements" were behind a car bombing that killed 21 worshippers and wounded dozens more at a Coptic Christian mass in Alexandria early Saturday.
Al Qaeda is suspected in the blast, possibly from a suicide attacker, which went off at around 0:30 a.m. (2230 GMT Friday) Saturday at the All Saints Church while worshippers were leaving after they just ended a gathering for the New Year.
A statement of the interior ministry said the car, which was parked outside the church, was believed to belong to one who frequently went to the church.
The bombing comes in the wake of repeated threats by Al Qaeda militants in Iraq to attack Egypt's Christians. Al Qaeda in Iraq said in early November that Christians and their organizations had become "legitimate targets" after a two-day deadline expired for Egypt's Coptic churches to free two women allegedly held due to their conversion to Islam.
The government of President Hosni Mubarak has long denied that the group has a significant presence in the country.
The attack also comes nearaly a year to the day since gunman opened fire into a crowd of worshippers outside a church in in the village of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, on Coptic Christmas Eve.
The drive-by shooting, reported by GlobalPost's Jon Jensen, occurred as the Christians were leaving a midnight mass.
Coptic Christians account for about 10 percent of Egypt's total population of nearly 80 million. Relations between the Copts and Egypt’s Sunni Muslims are generally calm, but sporadic incidents of violence have occurred, mostly over conversion, marital and land issues, and the bureaucratic hurdles involved in the construction of new churches.
Nearly 1,000 Christians were attending the New Year's Mass at the Saints Church early Saturday morning.
Witnesses reported seeing the charred chassis of the car, with the remains of several bodies nearby and dozens wounded.
Several hundred Christians protested the bombing, attacking the mosque, burning cars and clashing with police.