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A bomb killed at least 17 people outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria early on New Year's Day, and the Interior Ministry said a foreign-backed bomber may have been responsible.
Dozens of people were wounded by the blast, which scattered body parts, scorched cars and smashed windows. The attack prompted Christians to protest on the streets, and some Christians attacked Muslims and a nearby mosque with rocks, a witness said. Cars were torched.
Egypt, due to hold a presidential election in September, has stepped up security around churches, banning cars from parking directly outside them.
Saturday's blast did not originate in any of the cars that were destroyed, an interior ministry statement on the official news agency said. "It is likely that the device which exploded was carried by a suicide bomber who died among others," it said.
The circumstances of this attack, compared with other incidents abroad, "clearly indicates that foreign elements undertook planning and execution," the statement added.
President Hosni Mubarak promised in a televised address that “the terrorists would not destabilize Egypt or divide Christians and Muslims”, and said the attack "carries evidence of the involvement of foreign fingers....”
Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly told Reuters by telephone that there were 17 confirmed dead, 12 of them already identified as Christians. Five bodies had yet to be identified. He said initial assessments indicated 70 people were wounded.
State media earlier reported 21 killed in the blast, which struck as worshippers marking the New Year left the church. The ministry had initially blamed the explosion on a car bomb.
People gather after a bomb exploded in Egypt's northern city of Alexandria January 1, 2011.