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Cairo Bombing

Cairo explosion near popular Apparition Church blamed on Hezbollah

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff writer  May 29, 2009

Investigators of the bombing incident that took place May 12 near the famous Virgin’s Church in Cairo nabbed their suspects. However, top security is still combing the neighborhood in search of other perpetrators.

Though not necessarily the terrorists' target, the church which has been popular with tourists and Egyptians, Christians and Muslims, having been the site of Mary's apparitions, remains unscathed.

Two weeks ago, a car exploded Sunday 9pm at night in the busy district of Cairo. The makeshift explosive device was attached to a Fiat car, a property of a Coptic lawyer who was attending a wedding ceremony in the popular Saint Virgin’s Church in Zeytoun.

According to the Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the blast tore up two cars. Witnesses reported that the crime was more sectarian than terrorist-related, especially as the church is close to a big mosque where salafis usually go. The church is also close to a police station and has a considerable security presence. The second damaged car was a Fiat 128 and belongs to a local resident, said the paper.

A second bomb intended to set off after the first explosion was diffused.
The Ministry of Interior said the second bomb, a remote-controlled explosive charge, was diffused in the same area by detonation experts from the General Administration for Civil Protection. A mobile phone was said to have been used as a control device to trigger the charge.

Anti-terrorist squads later nabbed the most wanted members of a Hezbollah cell. The explosives used were very similar to those used by members of the terror group. But security has refused to accuse the freed members in the absence of any concrete evidence. Prior to investigations, just after the bombing, the police detained 15 suspects.

Security sources said stones and gunpowder were used in making the bombs. Further to the Al-Sharq al-Awsat, terrorists usually use screws and gunpowder to hurt as many people as possible. The al-Masri al-Yaum said a security source tipped that the explosion used the mechanism or device similar to the Al Azhar/ Khan el Khalili explosion that took place two months ago and killed a young French female tourist on school trip.

The Saint Virgin’s Church on Tuman Bai street in the Zeytoun district is one of the most important churches in Cairo. Many apparitions of the Virgin Mary took place over this church in the 1960s.

Back in the sixties, the Egyptian capital made headline news when it announced Mary’s apparitions before millions of devotees and non-devotees.

For over a year, starting on the eve of April 2nd 1968, the Blessed Virgin Mother appeared in different forms over the domes of the Coptic Orthodox Church named after her at Zeytoun. The late Rev. Father Constantine Moussa was the church priest at the time of the apparitions. The sightings lasted from only a few minutes up to several hours and were sometimes accompanied by luminous celestial bodies shaped like doves moving at high speed, according to Rev. Father Boutros Gayed, the late rector of the Virgin Mary Church at Zeytoun, the brother of H. H. Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark.

The phenomenon was witnessed by Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and atheists from everywhere. The sick were cured and blind persons received their sight. Church followers observed large numbers of unbelievers were converted by the apparitions that lasted for quite a long time; lasting sometimes for more than two hours on April 30.

The images were seen by citizens and foreigners belonging to different religions and sects, with groups of religious organizations and scientific and professional experts and all other categories of people having claimed witnessing such phenomenon. All gave the same accounts each time they were asked.

Zeytoun no longer remained a quiet suburb of Cairo ever since then. In a few years, it became densely populated as a residential district.

Late President Nasser wasted no time in cashing in on the events himself. During his presidency, the church and the government enjoyed a good relationship, especially since Nasser’s policies were in favor of secularization. He was quite capable of using religion for his own good, as he cast the Virgin’s apparition in 1968 in a political light to cheer up his people, presenting the event as a sign of heavenly support for his own policies, said Wael Abdul Fattah of Sawt al-Umma.

Years later, the apparitions meshed well with the tourism program, highlighting the path of the Holy Family in Egypt, which includes 25 religious destinations. Member of the Association for the Revival of the Egyptian National Heritage or NEHRA Samir Mitri Jayyid, once said the journey of the Holy Family can serve as a major tourist attraction in Egypt. Quickly taking advantage of the opportunity, former tourism minister Mamdouh Beltagui’s words, in the turn of the third millennium, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism issued a multi-language pamphlet on the religious destinations of the Holy Family with the apparition church as key attraction.

Religious tourism grew
During the investigation into the bombing, Father Boutros firmly denied rumors that some Christian fanatics were behind the explosion to show that Copts are persecuted in Egypt. In contrast, the al-Maydan reported that Coptic expatriates were behind the explosion in a bid to attract President Obama’s attention and prompt him to discuss the Coptic issue in Egypt during his Middle East tour.

Cairo explosion near popular Apparition Church blamed on Hezbollah
Image by Agence France Presse

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