A bomb killed at least 17 people outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria early on New Year's Day. The Interior Ministry said a foreign-backed suicide bomber may have been responsible.
Dozens of people were wounded by the blast, which scattered body parts, scorched cars and smashed windows. The attack prompted Christians to protest on the streets, and some Christians and Muslims hurled stones at each other.
Egypt, due to hold a presidential election in September, has stepped up security around churches, banning cars from parking directly outside them, since an Al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq issued a threat against the Church in Egypt in November.
Saturday's blast did not originate in any of the cars that were destroyed, an interior ministry statement on the official news agency said. "It is likely that the device which exploded was carried by a suicide bomber who died among others," it said.
President Hosni Mubarak promised in a televised address that the terrorists would not destabilise Egypt or divide Christians and Muslims, and said the attack "carries evidence of the involvement of foreign fingers."
Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly told Reuters by telephone that there were 17 confirmed dead. The ministry had initially blamed the explosion on a car bomb.