KUALA LUMPUR: The sound of explosions, the tremors felt in buildings and the sight of columns of smoke and people running helter-skelter were some of the impressions recalled by Malaysian students in Egypt who witnessed the bomb attacks on two Coptic Christian churches on Sunday, which killed 47 people and injured 137 others.
In Alexandria, Malaysian students described the bombing at St Mark's Cathedral, which occurred at around noon on Sunday, as “horrific and shocking”, since the area had always been peaceful and a tourist draw.
The other bomb attack struck earlier at St George Church in Tanta, north of Cairo, 130km southeast of Alexandria.
Nurul Syafiqah Mohd Badri, a medical student at Alexandria University, said when the incident happened, she and her friends were resting in their rooms.
"I ran out of my room when I was startled by a very loud explosion, as the church is about 400 metres away from our building. When I looked out the window, there were clouds of dust.
"When I looked down, the road was swarming with people including women, running and screaming. When we realised that it was a bomb explosion, we gathered and stayed in our rooms until calm returned.
"The security guards locked up the building and the management disallowed anyone from entering or exiting the building until the situation was under full control," she said when contacted.
The Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA)-sponsored student said classes went on as usual later, but students were not encouraged to go out, unless they had something urgent to attend to.
As her room is quite near the church, Nurul Shafiqah said she could hear cries of protest from a group that had gathered at the scene a few hours after the incident, but nothing untoward ensued.
"They were (protesting) for four hours. They only stopped upon hearing the call for Asar prayers, while ambulances were still seen around the site of the incident," said Nurul Shafiqah, who repeatedly expressed her gratefulness for being safe.
Her classmate, Amir Zahin Al Mukmin Japar, 24, from Malacca, and who also stays in the same building, recalled that just after the bomb explosion, he dashed to the window and recorded the unfolding scene on his mobile phone, including the movement of ambulances below and people running about and screaming.
He could not believe that the road he took each day, Sezostres Street, had become a bloodied place and chaotic following the bomb explosion.
"Oh, my God, I was so terrified, as we have always used that road. Traffic there came to a standstill, with the drivers of vehicles running helter-skelter after the bomb explosion," he said.
Amir Zahin said about 50 MARA-sponsored students stay in his building and they are all waiting for instruction from MARA on whether to return to Malaysia or remain in Alexandria.
Another medical student from the same university, Muhammad Zikry Hamedi, 23, said following the incident, the MARA office in Egypt and the Malaysian embassy in Cairo issued an advisory (via text message) urging Malaysian students in Alexandria to be careful and to follow the advisory until the situation returns to normal.
He said while classes went on as usual, they were advised not to go near St Mark Church and other churches in Alexandria.
He added that at the moment, there is sufficient food and beverage for students and telecommunication lines are functioning as usual.
Hanna Maisara Johari, 20, from the university's Faculty of Dentistry, said she and her friends, who stay in rented premises near the university, have not been going out since the incident and are waiting for further information and instructions from relevant authorities.
However, she voiced concern over whether the bomb attacks on the two churches could jeopardise relations between her Muslim and Christian classmates.
"Honestly, the Muslims and Christians here are very close and good to each other. I just don't understand how the bomb incident could happen.
"I hope the situation for us will not be as bad as
when the Egyptian revolution (of 2011) took place," said Hanna Maisara, who also voiced concern over the possibility of university examinations being postponed following the incident.
The first bomb explosion in Tanta killed 29 people and injured 71 others, while the incident in Alexandria took the lives of 18 people and injured 66 others. -- BERNAMA