CAIRO (Reuters) – Forensic evidence gathered at an Egyptian church where 23 people were killed on New Year’s Day suggests the bomber may have detonated his device prematurely and not intended to kill himself, the main state-run newspaper said on Thursday.
Officials have said the attack outside a midnight service in Alexandria on New Year’s Day was carried out by a suicide bomber inspired by al Qaeda. Suicide attackers have been rare in Egypt, which has suffered sporadic attacks in recent years.
Security sources said on Wednesday the remains of the bomb resembled devices used in blasts in 2009. Analysts said this hardened indications that militants inspired by al Qaeda may be gaining a toehold in Egypt, winning recruits as the state squeezes the Muslim Brotherhood and other moderate opponents.
Information from 45 body parts gathered at the blast site should enable the Interior Ministry to use its civil data base to identify the bomber, who was shown to be 23 to 25 years old, the state-run daily al-Ahram said it had learned.
Electronic circuits and debris collected by the forensics team showed he used a bag resembling a school or travel bag loaded with 20 to 25 kg of high-explosives, including a chemical substance mixed with sticks of TNT.
“The forensic investigation showed the impact on the body of the perpetrator indicates the explosion occurred by mistake or before the planned time, because it caused his body parts to scatter and fly off several meters,” al-Ahram said.
The charge contained flakes of tin and iron that mutilated the victims’ bodies, but did not contain nails, the newspaper added, citing no source for its information.
Security sources earlier compared the device with two less deadly ones in 2009. One bomb targeted a church in Cairo but caused no casualties. The other killed a French teenager in the popular Khan al-Khalili tourist area of Cairo. Neither was blamed on a suicide bomber.
The latest attack came two months after al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Iraq threatened to strike Coptic churches in Egypt, accusing Egyptian Christians of mistreating female converts to Islam.
The Alexandria bombing prompted protests in Cairo as well as the Mediterranean port city where it occurred. 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.