x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Egypt says church bomber linked to Muslim Brotherhood

Interior ministry names 22-year-old militant as the suicide bomber of St Mark's Cathedral.

A Coptic Christian man chants slogans during a protest on Monday, December 12, 2016 as policemen stand guard on a street after a funeral service at Virgin Mary Church, Cairo for victims of the bombing during Sunday mass at a chapel adjoining  St Mark's Cathedral.  Nariman El Mofty / AP
A Coptic Christian man chants slogans during a protest on Monday, December 12, 2016 as policemen stand guard on a street after a funeral service at Virgin Mary Church, Cairo for victims of the bombing during Sunday mass at a chapel adjoining St Mark's Cathedral. Nariman El Mofty / AP

CAIRO // A suicide bomber who killed at least 25 people in Cairo’s main cathedral on Sunday was a Muslim Brotherhood supporter who joined a militant cell while on the run from police, the interior ministry said.

At least 49 people were wounded when the bomb went off in a chapel adjoining St Mark’s Cathedral, Cairo’s largest church and seat of the Coptic Christian papacy.

The interior ministry named the attacker on Monday as Mahmoud Shafik Mohammed Mostafa, a 22-year-old student. President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said four people had been detained and two were on the run.

Mostafa was arrested in March 2014 for carrying arms during a protest, and was freed on bail after two months. The interior ministry said he had joined a cell led by Mohab Mostafa Sayyed Qassem, a militant with links to ISIL fighters in Northern Sinai and exiled Brotherhood officials in Qatar, and was wanted in two other cases.

The Egyptian government on Tuesday released footage showing the suicide bombing, including images of the attacker. The CCTV video shows the street across from the chapel adjacent to St Mark’s Cathedral, seat of Egypt’s ancient Coptic Orthodox Church.

It shows a dark figure crossing the street and walking through the gates of the church. Moments later, the blast sends clouds of dust and debris through the church windows.

It was among the deadliest attacks in recent memory to target Egypt’s Coptic minority, which makes up around 10 per cent of the population.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but ISIL supporters celebrated online.

The Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s first election after the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. The Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi became president but was toppled two years later after mass protests.

Disillusioned by its ill-fated flirtation with democracy, some Brotherhood supporters have gone to fight in Syria or joined the local arm of ISIL, which since 2013 has killed hundreds of soldiers and police in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

The Brotherhood, which Egypt declared a terrorist organisation, has split into rival wings since Morsi’s downfall, while some supporters have formed splinter groups that carry out targeted attacks on police and judicial officials.

The mother of the Coptic church bomber told Reuters he had been sexually abused in police custody in 2014, but she had seen no sign he had been radicalised.

Umm Bilal said her son fled to Sudan shortly after being released.

“Mahmoud would not do this ... he would not kill anyone,” she shouted as she listened to a news report on the bombing.

He called his mother regularly from abroad.

“He said he would not return because security forces would detain him again,” said Umm Bilal. The last call came about a week ago.

Mostafa was wanted for two other cases in connection with fundamentalist groups, according to the ministry.

DNA testing of body parts found at the scene matched with his family, it said.

During investigations, authorities found two explosive belts ready to be detonated, as well as other materials used to make explosive devices, at a hideout used by Mostafa and his group.

*Reuters, Associated press and Agence France-Presse