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Tight Security Dragnet Ahead of Coptic Christmas in Egypt

Egypt was on high alert on Monday ahead of the Coptic Christmas holiday following a New Year's Day church bombing that killed 21 people as investigators raced to identify those behind the attack.

Police cancelled leave for top officers and were tightening surveillance of airports and ports to prevent suspects from leaving the country, as new checkpoints were set up across the nation.

Security was also to be beefed up at churches for Christmas which Copts celebrate on January 7.

The clampdown comes amid fears of new protests by Copts following overnight clashes at Cairo's St. Mark's Cathedral -- headquarters of Coptic leader Pope Shenouda III -- during which 45 policemen were wounded.

The protesters pelted with rocks a minister who had come to visit the pope and heckled other government officials while other demonstrators blocked off four main streets in Cairo before police dispersed them.

Coptic Christmas will fall on Friday -- the weekly Muslim day of prayer and rest -- and Shenouda said he intended to say mass as usual on Christmas Eve.

"Not praying would mean that terrorism has deprived us of celebrating the birth of Christ," the official Al-Ahram newspaper quoted him as saying.

Twenty-one people were killed early on New Year's Day and 79 wounded when an apparent suicide bomber detonated his payload as hundreds of worshippers were leaving midnight at Al-Qiddissin (The Saints) church in Alexandria.

A security official said on Sunday that about 20 people were detained for questioning but there was no evidence any of them was directly connected to the attack.

Al-Ahram quoted security officials as saying that the bomb was a sophisticated device packed with TNT and pieces of metal to cause the largest number of casualties possible.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

Source: Agence France Presse


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