The car bomb exploded outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, in the early hours of the new year on Saturday morning, killing 21 people and injuring nearly 100 as they left the service.
The bloody attack at the al-Qiddissin Church prompted enraged Egyptian Christians to take to the streets. Protests sparked clashes between Muslims and Christians, with the two groups throwing stones at each other, news agencies reported.
Late on Sunday, riots flared near the headquarters of the Coptic Church after the country's top Muslim religious figures and government officials met with Pope Shenouda III, the religion's Egyptian leader. About 10 percent of Egypt's 79 million-strong population are Christians.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack, but local authorities said it appeared to be at least inspired by al-Qaida or other international terrorist groups. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak blamed the deaths on "foreign hands" seeking to destabilize Egypt.
International leaders were quick to condemn Saturday's blast. US President Barack Obama criticized the separate "outrageous terrorist bombing attacks" in Egypt and the bombing of a crowded marketplace in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. "We stand with the Nigerian and Egyptian people at this difficult time," he said in a statement.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy warned that "nobody should be worried or afraid for their life in exercizing their fundamental right to freely practice their faith." Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, meanwhile, called for a forceful response from his counterparts in the European Union.
Within Germany, Volker Beck, the human rights spokesman in parliament for the Green Party, said that words must be coupled with action. "Condemning such attacks is not enough," he said. "Egypt and other states must effectively combat the demons of religious intolerance."
Stefan Müller, the parliamentary leader of Germany's conservative Christian Social Union, urged greater scrutiny of the human rights' record of recipients of German development aid. "There can be no financial aid to countries in which Christians cannot practice their faith unhindered," he said, calling on Muslims in Germany to do more to condemn the violence.
Meanwhile, Germany's Coptic Christian community has also reported receiving threats from radical Muslims. Germany's mass-circulation tabloid Bild on Monday cited Coptic bishop Anba Damian, who said he had asked the German government for protection. "The Internet is full of threats of this kind against us. Police have alerted us several times against attacks by radical Muslims," Damian said.
German commentators on Monday universally call for more protection for the minority group and warn that the underlying problems in Egypt need urgent attention. One newspaper stresses there is a real possibility of further attacks.
The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"So the new year has brought al-Qaida's insanity, as we know it from Iraq, into Egypt. Will this attack bring Egypt's Muslims and Christians closer together, as suggested by a spontaneous demonstration in Cairo on Saturday? Or will the militant Islamists achieve their goal of driving a wedge between Christians and Muslims amid the current tense climate?"
"In order to avoid the latter, the Egyptian government needs to finally stand up against the creeping Islamization of the country. The Copts have gradually been isolated and pushed to the margins of society. If there is no division between Muslims and Christians, al-Qaida doesn't have a chance."