Egypt bomber planned blast inside church: police

A suspected suicide bomber who killed 21 people outside a church probably intended to set off the explosives during a mass inside to kill as many people as possible, Egyptian investigators said on Monday.

The main lead in the investigation into the New Year's Day attack in Alexandria, which no one has claimed, was a severed head found at the scene they said probably belonged to the bomber.

Police also believe that a severed foot, which the blast had thrown over the roof of a mosque across the street from the church, also belonged to the suspected attacker, who they said was a man in his thirties.

Officials suspect that the bomber planned to enter the church, which was holding a New Year's Eve mass, but was deterred by police guards at its gates.

He then set off an explosives belt packed with between 10 and 15 kilogrammes (22-33 pounds) of TNT, bolts and ball bearings as the congregants emerged shortly after midnight.

Police also found a still-unidentified hand amputated by the powerful blast, which overturned a car and damaged the church's facade.

Surgeons have been called in to try to reconstruct the head's features to determine its identity.

The attack was Egypt's worst since one on a Sinai tourist resort in 2006.

It came two months after the Islamic State of Iraq, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, attacked a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad. It said its objective was to force the release of two Coptic priests' wives in Egypt it claimed had converted to Islam and were being held against their will.

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