Image: Realtives of Christian worshipper killed in Egypt church bombing
str  /  AP
Egyptian realtives of Fawy Bekhiet, one of the 21 Christian worshippers killed in a church bombing, flash his picture at his home in Alexandria, Egypt, Monday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/3/2011 5:46:17 PM ET 2011-01-03T22:46:17

Egyptian investigators are focusing on a remaining set of unidentified remains from the bomb attack on an Alexandria church that may be linked to the attacker, a security official said Monday.

Investigators believe a suicide attacker carried out the bombing on the Saints Church in the coastal city of Alexandria as worshippers were emerging from midnight Mass, killing 21.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the worst on Egyptian Christians in a decade. In the immediate aftermath, President Hosni Mubarak blamed foreigners, but security officials now say police are looking at homegrown Islamic extremists perhaps were inspired by al-Qaida.

The investigation into the identity of the perpetrator is now focusing on the final unidentified set of remains, including a severed head, the official said speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way.

Typically in suicide bombings, the head of the attacker is flung away by the blast but remains in one piece.

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Following DNA tests, the official said three of the four remaining unidentified bodies were revealed to belong to women missing since the attack.

The crime lab investigation found the explosives used were locally made using TNT explosives and were filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize the number of casualties.

Also, the forensic report showed that most of the victims died of wounds sustained from the explosion, while some perished from burns.

Story: Bombing opens vein of Christian anger in Egypt

Two dozen people were arrested in the aftermath, mostly owners of cars parked outside the church.

The head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church appealed to the government on Monday to address Christians complaints about discrimination to ease tensions as fierce riots broke out in the capital following the New Year's Day church bombing.

The interview with Coptic Pope Shenouda III on state television came as hundreds of predominantly Christian protesters clashed with riot police in northern Cairo in late-night demonstrations expressing frustration with the government's policies.

In rare criticism by the 87-year-old church leader, Shenouda called on the government to address Christian grievances in the country, especially of laws restricting freedom of worship.

"The state also has a duty. It must see to the problems of the Copts and try to resolve them," he said. "If there are laws that is an unjust to some, the state should correct many laws.

The pope said the unprecedented attack on the Saints Church in Alexandria had "caused panic" among Muslims and Christians, but he appealed for calm among his flock and warned that political activists might use protests to push their anti-government agenda.

"Problems are solved with calm and communication, not with anger and emotions," he said, while acknowledging that the tensions were fed by the Christian community's long-standing grievances.

"There are laws that are painful to some, and despite our commitment to the laws, the pain is still there, and this needs to be addressed," he said, while counseling patience to Christians.

In northern district of Shubra, police surrounded hundreds of protesters in tight cordons near the neighborhood's main church, while youths dashed out of sidestreets and pelted their armored cars with rocks.

Riot police beat the protesters with their batons and an Associated Press photographer on the scene saw at least five people injured including two bleeding from serious head wounds. A priest eventually convinced security forces to open their lines and allow the protesters to disperse.

Protesters also attempted to block a nearby highway with burning tires and threw rocks at passing cars.

In Alexandria, the police cordoned off the area around the church that was attacked to prevent further protests and enforce calm. Church supporters prevented a local construction company from repairing the damage to the building because parishioners want to keep the blood of the dead on the walls as a reminder, said a local priest.

"They don't want to erase the blood of martyrs," said Father Mena of the Saints Church.

Image: Egyptian plainclothes police arrest two Coptic Christian youths
Ben Curtis  /  AP
Egyptian plainclothes police arrest two Coptic Christian youths who were part of a noisy protest near the bombed church Sunday.

Meanwhile, Egypt is screening people who arrived recently from countries where al-Qaida is known to recruit, security sources said.

In Europe, authorities said they were pursuing threats against Coptic churches there, after militants said they would attack the Egyptian Christian denomination both in Egypt and among its diaspora communities.

The attack came two months after al Qaida-linked insurgents in Iraq attacked a Baghdad church and threatened to strike Coptic churches in Egypt, accusing the Egyptian Christian denomination of mistreating female converts to Islam.

Two weeks ago, a statement on Islamist websites urged Muslims to attack Coptic churches in Egypt and among Egyptian Christian communities in Germany, France, Britain and elsewhere around Christmas, which Orthodox Copts celebrate on Jan. 7.

A statement after the blast on another Islamist website read: "This is the first drop of heavy rain, hand over our prisoners and turn to Islam." No group was named.

The German government said it had warned Coptic Christians living in Germany about the risk of possible attacks just hours before the New Year's blast in Alexandria.

"I can confirm that on New Year's Eve the interior ministry contacted the bishop of the Coptic Christians in Germany, Anba Damian, to tell him about this risk," German Interior Ministry spokesman Stephan Paris told reporters.

A French court said it had opened an investigation after a priest in the greater Paris region complained of online threats against Coptic Christians.

French Police will seek to determine whether the threats, posted on social networking websites, amounted to a conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, the court said. It did not identify the websites or give details of the threats.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to ths report.

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