Army of Islam responsible for Coptic killings, claims Egypt

Mon, Jan 24, 2011, 00:00

EGYPT HAS blamed the Gaza-based Army of Islam for the January 1st suicide bombing that killed 24 Coptic Christians and wounded 97 at a church in the port city of Alexandria.

In a televised address yesterday to mark Police Day, interior minister Habib al-Adly said: “If elements of the Palestinian Army of Islam, linked to al-Qaeda, thought they had hidden behind [Egyptian] recruits, we have decisive proof of their heinous involvement in planning and carrying out such a villainous terrorist attack.”

President Hosni Mubarak praised the police for identifying the perpetrators and said their aim had been to sow discord between Copts and Muslims and cause unrest. Copts make up 10 per cent of the 80 million Egyptians.

Spokesmen claiming to represent the Army of Islam contradicted one another. A man calling himself Abu Mousab quoted Mumtaz Doghmush, said to be a faction leader, as denying any connection with the bombing, although he expressed support for the operation.

Abu Muthanna, another spokesman, not only denied involvement but claimed Israeli intelligence was responsible.

Hamas expressed concern over the allegations and called on Cairo to share intelligence on the operation. It said: “Hamas is leading resistance against the Zionist occupation in Palestine and will never allow it [the resistance] to move outside Palestine.

“Egyptian and Arab security are our top priorities. We consider the Arab nations our strategic depth and would not accept anyone to touch their security.”

Hamas has recently cracked down on dissident groups that fire missiles from Gaza into Israel and has deployed armed fighters along the border to prevent these organisations from breaking the ceasefire imposed in January 2009.

The Army of Islam is the name adopted by dissident fundamentalists who took part along with fighters from the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad in the 2006 cross-border raid that resulted in the seizure of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who remains a captive in Gaza.

Mumtaz Doghmush is a member of a Gaza criminal clan that was formerly allied with Fatah. Hamas suppressed the clan which was involved in the 2008 kidnapping and holding for 114 days of BBC journalist Alan Johnston.

The Egyptian authorities are eager to avoid making the accusation that the bombing was a sectarian incident like a 2000 business dispute that resulted in the deaths of 21 Copts.

Sectarian tensions and clashes occasionally flare over land disputes, inter-communal romances and discrimination against Copts.