Egypt's Copts boldly celebrate Christmas despite threat of further attacks

An Egyptian Christian spoke for many attending worship services for Coptic Christmas today, when he said, 'The love of our Lord is stronger than hate.'

Ben Curtis/AP
Coptic Christian women attend Christmas Eve Mass at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jan. 6.

Coptic Christians celebrated Christmas amid heavy security Friday after the bombing at an Alexandria church on New Year’s Eve killed 23 and injured nearly 100.

Security forces filled the streets in front of churches throughout Cairo and prevented vehicles from stopping in front of them as Christians went to Christmas Eve services Thursday night.

In Cairo’s Shubra neighborhood, where hundreds of Christians protested for days after the bombing, worshipers said they came to celebrate Christmas despite their fears that they might be targeted again. Jihadi websites had circulated the names and addresses of churches in Egypt and urged followers to attack on Christmas.

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“We worry about another attack, but we put our trust in God,” said Mary Mishra’y outside a Shubra church. “We would consider it an honor to be martyred like those in Alexandria.”

Many echoed her sentiments, and the usually joyful mood was somber as people in dark clothing navigated the security cordon to attend services.

At some churches in Cairo and Alexandria, Muslims attended services or gathered outside Thursday evening to show solidarity with Christians. Prominent Muslims, including President Hosni Mubarak’s two sons, attended the service at St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic pope. But at many churches, police were checking national identity cards and allowing only Christians to enter, so Muslims stood outside, some holding signs against terrorism and sectarianism.

In his sermon at St. Mark’s, Pope Shenouda III mourned those killed in Alexandria. "I echo President Mubarak's remark that the blood of our sons is not cheap,” he said.

'The love of our Lord is stronger than hate'

Back in Shubra, a father who brought his two young sons to the Christmas Eve service said he was glad to see the heavy security presence, but wondered why police hadn’t prevented the Alexandria bombing.

“Everyone is talking about the possibility of another attack, this is what is on everyone’s minds,” he said. “We are sad. But we won’t allow this hate to defeat us. The love of our Lord is stronger than hate.”

Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of nearly 80 million, and the majority of them belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. The church follows the Julian calendar and celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7.

Egypt blames Al Qaeda

Egyptian officials were quick to blame Al Qaeda for the attack, eager to deflect attention from rising sectarian tension in Egypt.

An Al Qaeda affiliated Iraqi terrorist group repeatedly threatened to attack Copts before the Alexandria bombing, accusing the Coptic church of preventing two women from converting to Islam and holding them against their will. The church that was bombed in Alexandria, called Al Qidiseen, or Two Saints, was one of those on the list posted on militant websites.

But the Egyptian government's investigation has reportedly focused on local militant groups in Alexandria that may have drawn their inspiration from the regional terror network.

Al Badil newspaper reported Friday that the family of a young Alexandria man who belonged to a local Salafi group has accused security officers of torturing their son to death while interrogating him about the explosion. Authorities have reportedly rounded up hundreds of members of extremist Salafi groups in Alexandria, where such groups have a following.

Authorities have also released a sketch of the man they believe detonated the suicide bomb shortly after midnight on Jan. 1.

RELATED – Egypt's Copts: A closer look at Coptic Christianity

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