Sus­pect in church bomb­ing jailed be­fore

Egyp­tian who blew him­self up was known Is­lamist

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY MAG­GIE MICHAEL AND HAMZA HENDAWI

CAIRO | The young man sus­pected of blow­ing him­self up in­side a Cairo chapel dur­ing Sun­day Mass, killing at least 25 peo­ple, had been ar­rested and beaten by po­lice two years ago af­ter al­legedly tak­ing part in an Is­lamist demon­stra­tion, his lawyer said Mon­day.

If in­de­pen­dently con­firmed, Mah­moud Shafiq Mo­hammed Mustafa would be the lat­est Egyp­tian to be rad­i­cal­ized af­ter be­ing sub­jected to po­lice abuse, a prac­tice that was com­mon for decades and has be­come ram­pant af­ter a crack­down on dis­sent fol­low­ing the mil­i­tary’s 2013 ouster of an Is­lamist pres­i­dent.

Speak­ing af­ter a state funeral for the vic­tims, Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi said the sus­pect det­o­nated a belt of ex­plo­sives in­side a chapel ad­ja­cent to St. Mark’s Cathe­dral, seat of Egypt’s an­cient Cop­tic Ortho­dox Church. The chapel, over 100 years old, was packed with wor­ship­pers.

The dead in­cluded more than 20 women and chil­dren. Forty-nine oth­ers were in­jured, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures from the Health Min­istry.

Mah­moud Has­san, one of Mr. Mustafa’s lawyers, said his client, who was 16 at the time of his ar­rest, was tor­tured un­til he con­fessed to the pos­ses­sion of weapons and ex­plo­sions. He also faced charges of mem­ber­ship in an “il­le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Egyp­tian par­lance for the out­lawed Mus­lim Brother­hood, the Is­lamist group of which for­mer Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi was a se­nior of­fi­cial.

The In­te­rior Min­istry said late Mon­day that Mr. Mustafa be­longed to a ter­ror­ist cell founded by an Egyp­tian doc­tor and funded by Mus­lim Brother­hood lead­ers liv­ing in ex­ile in Qatar, long ac­cused by Egypt of sup­port­ing mil­i­tants groups. It said the cell was tasked with stag­ing at­tacks that would lead to sec­tar­ian Mus­lim-Christian strife.

Af­ter his ar­rest, Mr. Mustafa spent nearly two months in de­ten­tion be­fore be­ing re­leased on bail. A court later con­victed him in ab­sen­tia, ac­cord­ing to the lawyer. Trau­ma­tized by the tor­ture, he told his lawyer not to ap­peal, fear­ing he would be abused again if de­tained.

A po­lice photo of Mr. Mustafa and a friend ar­rested on the same day showed the pair, clearly in their teens, with bleed­ing noses and bruised faces. Placed atop a cof­fee ta­ble in front of them was a ri­fle, am­mu­ni­tion and what ap­peared to be a home­made bomb.

Mr. Has­san in­sisted that Mr. Mustafa was not a mem­ber of the Brother­hood, but the young Egyp­tian stu­dent from the oasis prov­ince of Fay­oum ap­pears to have been rad­i­cal­ized by his ex­pe­ri­ence in de­ten­tion, a dan­ger many Egyp­tian rights ac­tivists warn the gov­ern­ment against. The ac­tivists seek free­dom for any­one not in­volved in acts of vi­o­lence.

Two lo­cal news web­sites on Mon­day quoted Mr. Mustafa’s mother as say­ing he had not been home in two years.

No one has so far claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for Sun­day’s bomb­ing. Two ac­tive mil­i­tant groups be­lieved to have links to the Mus­lim Brother­hood — Hasm and Liwa el-Thawra — dis­tanced them­selves from the at­tack. The lo­cal af­fil­i­ate of the Is­lamic State group has so far re­mained si­lent.

Sun­day’s bomb­ing was among the dead­li­est at­tacks in re­cent mem­ory to tar­get Egypt’s Cop­tic mi­nor­ity, which makes up around 10 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion and strongly sup­ported the el-Sissi-led mil­i­tary over­throw of Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected pres­i­dent, whose one year in of­fice proved to be di­vi­sive.

Since then, Is­lamic mil­i­tants have car­ried out scores of at­tacks, mainly tar­get­ing the se­cu­rity forces, while the gov­ern­ment has waged a wide-scale crack­down on dis­sent.

Mr. Mustafa raised sus­pi­cions when, ac­cord­ing to footage from a se­cu­rity cam­era, he hur­riedly en­tered the chapel wear­ing a bulging jacket, prompt­ing one se­cu­rity guard to fol­low him. About 10 sec­onds later Mr. Mustafa blew him­self up. The guard who fol­lowed him was killed, said Khaled Diaa-Eldeen, who leads a team of prose­cu­tors in­ves­ti­gat­ing Sun­day’s at­tack.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Egyp­tians mourned 25 Cop­tic Chris­tians killed Sun­day by a sui­cide bomber, who po­lice say was jailed be­fore.

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