The suicide attack on the Coptic Saints Church in Alexandria, northern Egypt, which left 21 dead and 79 injured after New Year’s mass, was carried out by a local Egyptian Islamic Jihad extremist, DEBKAfile‘s counter-terror sources report. In calling for national unity, President Hosni Mubarak stepped away from blaming Al Qaeda, which has been massacring Iraqi Christians. But he also glossed over homegrown terror by calling the attack “a foreign assault.”
The rising tide of Islamist terror in Egypt, which exploded in Alexandria on Jan. 1, is thrown up by multiple sources inside the country:
1. Al Qaeda has grown offshoots in the cities lining the Suez Canal, such as Ismailya, Suez, and the towns and villages around Alexandria.
2. For years, Egyptian security forces have tried and failed to uproot the Al Qaeda cells and Egyptian Islamic Jihad fugitives on the run which are entrenched in the rugged mountains at the heart of the Sinai Peninsula. These strongholds are also used by the local Bedouin tribesmen operating a thriving Middle East smuggling network for weapons, drugs and human traffic.
3. Its routes keep Al Qaeda supplied with weapons, explosives and reinforcements. They start in Somalia, pass through Eritrea and Sudan into southern Egypt, cross the Suez Canal and land in Sinai with their contraband. Their supply route then forks into a western branch for deliveries to Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank recipients , and the eastern branch, which heads northeast to Jordan and winds across its borders through to Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.
Since no one including Israel takes any real action to stifle this booming smuggling trade, Iran can safely jump aboard any segment of the network to smuggle missiles and other weapons systems to the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic JIhad in the Gaza Strip.
4. Egypt and Israel have also been looking the other way as Al Qaeda cells in the Gaza Strip flourish and become increasingly aggressive. Those cells are largely responsible for the rising number of attacks on Israeli forces patrolling the Gaza border fence, providing their fighters with valuable experience in real combat conditions. Some Egyptian Islamic Jihad fugitives have reached the Gaza Strip too and liaise between the Egyptian and Palestinian terrorist movements.
Copts account for roughly ten percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. Their Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest in Christendom, was founded in the first century. After the seventh century Arab conquest, Islam gradually became the dominant faith of the land until the present. The Copts have survived against spates of persecution. Sunday morning, dozens filled the same Saints Church attacked a day earlier, while riot police backed by armored vehicles were deployed outside.
Exactly a year ago, six Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a church in southern Egypt, and in November police killed a protester during clashes with Copts triggered by a halt to the construction of a church in Cairo. Non-Islamic tourists are often targeted for homegrown Islamist terror attacks, such as the suicide bombing at the crowded Cairo Khan el-Khalili souk on April 7, 2005, in which three tourists were killed, two French and one American. Three months later, on Oct. 30, another terrorist jumped to his death from a bridge into a busy bus terminal from which tourists head out to the different sites across the country. At the same time, two veiled women opened fire on a tourist bus bringing sightseers back from the Saladin Citadel in Cairo.
Those attacks were claimed by the “Egyptian Mujahidin” and “Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigades,” an ersatz name which many terrorism experts believe is used by al Qaeda’s many offshoots in the Middle East and Persian Gulf mask their members’ identify.
The Alexandria attack peaked a period of simmering Islamic-Coptic violence. In November, police killed a Copt taking part in a protest triggered by a halt to the construction of a church in Cairo.
Muslim rioters have long demanded that two Muslim women married to Copts and converted to Christianity be “returned.” The law is behind them. In Egypt, interfaith marriages between Muslims and Copts are banned as illegal.
While Iraq’s Christians are in flight from Al Qaeda-led Islamist terror, the Lebanese Shiite extremist Hizballah is ironically on the alert for the same scourge to attack its own religious and military centers. Hassan Nasrallah and his security chiefs fear that Lebanese Islamists with links to Al Qaeda – or jihadis attacking Christians and Shiites in Iraq – may soon infiltrate the country through Syria and target his strongholds.
One Islamist terrorist organization would then be pitted against another for the first time.