A car exploded in front of a Coptic Christian church as worshippers emerged from a New Year's Mass in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, killing at least 21 people, officials said.
After the blast, enraged Christians emerging from the church clashed with police and stormed a nearby mosque, prompting fights and volleys of stone throwing with Muslims, police and witnesses said _ a sign of the sectarian anger that has been arising with greater frequency in Egypt.
Nearly 1,000 Christians were attending the Mass at the Saints Church in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, said a priest at the church, Father Mena Adel. The service had just ended, and worshippers were leaving the building when the blast went off, about a half-hour after midnight.
"I was inside the church and heard a huge explosion," Fr Adel said. "People's bodies were in flames."
The blast came from a car parked outside the church, but police said they were still investigating whether the car had been rigged with explosives or if a bomb had been placed under it. Witnesses reported seeing the charred chassis of the destroyed car, with the remains of several bodies nearby and dozens wounded.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that seven people were killed and 24 wounded. Alexandria's governor, Adel Labib, put the death toll as high as 10.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. Mr Labib immediately blamed al Qa'eda, pointing to recent threats by the terror group's branch in Iraq to attack Christians. It was not clear, however, if Mr Labib had firm evidence, and he may have intended more to deny any homegrown Muslim-Christian tensions in Egypt.
"The al Qa'eda organization threatened to attack churches inside Egypt. This has nothing to do with sectarianism," he told state TV.
After the explosion, some Christians from the church clashed with police in anger over the blast. The Christians hurled stones at police and a nearby mosque, chanting, "With our blood and soul, we redeem the cross," the witnesses said.
An AP photographer at the scene said the protesters stormed into the mosque, throwing books inside out onto the street. The protest sparked clashes with Muslims, as both sides began throwing stones and bottles at each other in the streets.