Christians make up about 10 percent of the population in Egypt, with the overwhelming majority coming from the Coptic sect.
The growing role of Islam in daily life in Egypt has left Christians, who complain of systematic government discrimination, increasingly uneasy. Sectarian tensions between the Copts and Egypt’s Muslim majority occasionally boil over, as they did last year on Christmas Eve in Nag Hammadi, when gunmen shot worshipers leaving a mass.
Now, global terrorists appear to be exploiting those tensions to justify attacks on Christians. The Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq, which attacked a Christian church in Baghdad in November, cited the alleged abduction of two women married to Coptic priests in Egypt who were barred from converting to Islam.
The group repeatedly threatened to attack again, in Egypt, leading to speculation that it may have been behind the New Year's attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, which left more than 20 people dead – the worst attack in a decade on the Christian minority.