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Egypt warned not to link Qatar to Coptic church bombing investigation

The Gulf countries challenged allegations that Qatar is involved in the bombing of a Cairo church that killed at least 25 people on Sunday
Egyptians carry candles during a vigil for the victims of a bomb explosion that targeted a church in Cairo (AFP)

Relations between Egypt and the Gulf states are at risk after Cairo accused Qatar of hosting those behind the church bombing, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has said.

The suicide attack at Cairo's main Coptic cathedral on Sunday had killed 25 people. On Friday, Egypt's health ministry announced that the death toll went up to 26 after a 70-year old woman died in the hospital. 

Egyptian officials should confirm the accuracy of any information regarding terrorist attacks before announcing statements, GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani said in a statement issued late Thursday, according to the Qatar News Agency (QNA).

“Issuing hasty statements without confirming them affects the strong relations between the GCC and the Arab republic of Egypt," he added.

Egyptian security forces and officials inspect the scene of a bomb explosion in a church in Cairo on 11 December (AFP)

“The position of all GCC countries towards terrorism has always been consistent and well-known, and the GCC countries have condemned the explosion of the (Coptic church) in Egypt, stressing their solidarity and stance with their sister Egypt in its efforts to combat terrorist organisations, as Egypt’s security represents the security of the GCC states,” Al Zayani said.

Egypt's allegations

On Monday, Egypt’s interior ministry had accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders, who had fled to Qatar following the coup that toppled Mohamed Morsi in 2013, of financing and directing those behind the attack.

Egypt’s interior ministry claimed in the statement that Mohab Mohammed al-Qassem, a 30-year-old Egyptian doctor, plotted the attack with support and instruction from Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Qatar, to challenge the country’s stability and spark sectarian strife.

The ministry said that al-Qassem visited Qatar in 2015 as evidence for its claims, adding that he had strong links with Brotherhood leaders there who convinced him to execute their “terrorist plots”.

The actual bomber was 22-year-old student Mahmoud Shafik Mohammed Mostafa, the ministry added, alleging he was also a supporter of the banned group.

But one day later, Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that a suicide bomber whom it identified as Abu Abdallah al-Masri had detonated his explosive belt inside the church.

"Every infidel and apostate in Egypt and everywhere should know that our war ... continues," IS said in a statement carried by its news agency Amaq.

Qatar's reaction

On Tuesday Qatar’s foreign ministry denied claims of its involvement in the attack, QNA reported.

Ahmed al-Rumaihi, director of the foreign ministry's information office, said that Qatar’s name had been brought into the investigation to cover the “incompetence” of the Egyptian authorities, fuelling negativity.

He said that al-Qassem had been in Qatar in 2015 like many thousands of visitors each year, but the authorities didn’t receive any requests from Egypt to arrest the suspect or prevent him from entering the country.

Al-Rumaihi condemned the attack and said that the “fraternal relations” between the two countries would remain strong, despite the allegations.

GCC ties

In March 2014, tensions rose between Qatar and GCC countries members Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, causing the trio to withdraw their ambassadors.

They accused Qatar of meddling in their internal affairs and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood. They agreed to press ahead with implementing an agreement they signed, which obliged its signatories not to intervene in the affairs of other member states.

Several months later in September 2014, Qatar expelled leading members of the Brotherhood and told them to leave the country within a week.

The group is designated as a “terrorist” organisation by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Syria and Russia.