Remains of a bomb used in a church bombing resemble devices used in blasts in 2009, according to security sources, and analysts said this hardened indications al Qaeda-inspired militants may be winning a toehold in the country.
The possible link reinforces the view that such militants may be winning recruits as the government sidelines moderate Islamist voices such as the Muslim Brotherhood, analysts said.
Egypt suspects an al Qaeda-driven suicide bomber was behind the blast at a Orthodox Coptic church in the city of Alexandria during a midnight service, which killed 23 people. Christians in Muslim-majority Egypt have protested at the lack of protection, Reuters reports.
Security sources compared the device in the latest blast with two less deadly ones in 2009. One bomb targeted a church in Cairo in but left no casualties. The other killed a French teenager in a popular Cairo tourist area, called el-Hussein or Khan el-Khalili. Neither was blamed on a suicide bomber.
“The bomb used in the Alexandria attack is similar to a large extent to the bombs that exploded in 2009 near a Cairo church and in al-Hussein. This indicates there may be a link between the bombers,” a security source said.
Khalil Anani, political analyst at Britain’s Durham University, said some Islamists following more strict Sunni teachings, called Salafists, might be turning to militancy as more moderate voices in Egypt are isolated by the state.
“The rise of a Salafi trend in Egypt is the result of the government marginalizing moderate Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and independent moderate Islamic voices,” Anani said.
The Brotherhood, seen as Egypt’s biggest opposition group, renounced violence decades ago as a means to bring change in Egypt. The group has warned that government pressure to squeeze it out of politics could push some toward more radical ideas.
Egyptian officials have said there were indications “foreign elements” orchestrated the church explosion and said the attack seemed to have been the work of a suicide bomber.
Cabinet spokesman Magdy Rady said the church bomb was “primitive and either hand-held by the bomber or … wrapped in an explosive belt.” He was quoting the interior minister. Officials initially said a car bomb might have been involved.
Findings showed materials recovered from the New Year’s Day blast contained TNT explosive, as well as nuts, bolts and electric wiring, the security source said. The bombs used in the 2009 blasts contained similar components, he added.
Two weeks before the attack, a militant website called Shumoukh al-Islam posted a manual “of ingredients needed to make a hand-held explosive device.” It also listed Coptic churches in Egypt and some European states. No group was named.
The security source said police arrested Islamists in Alexandria days before the attack who were protesting over two Coptic women they say had converted to Islam and were detained by the Coptic Church. He did not give details.
A source said earlier that seven people were being held.
The attack came two months after al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Iraq threatened to strike Coptic churches in Egypt, accusing the Egyptian Christians of mistreating female converts to Islam.
The Alexandria bombing prompted protests in Cairo and Alexandria. Hundreds of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the country’s 79 million people, have accused the government of failing to provide adequate security even after threats.
A Facebook page “We are Khaled Said,” a site set up to campaign for citizens rights, has called for a silent march across the nation on Friday to condemn the blast.