Sunday, April 9, 2017

ISIS takes responsibility for Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt.

People gather outside one of the churches that got bombed. ABC/AP.

ISIS has taken credit for two bombings in Egypt targeting Coptic Christians on Palm Sunday. ABC News. 37 people were killed in the blasts and over 100 were wounded. 26 people were killed in the Nile Delta town of Tanta while an additional 11 died at St. Mark's cathedral in Alexandria. ISIS took credit for the attack and they have also stated that they would pick up the pace of attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt. ISIS's affiliate in Egypt, the Sinai Province has mostly focused on fighting Egyptian security forces, the 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt notwithstanding. Now ISIS seems to be switching focus and is attacking Copts instead. 

My Comment:
Horrible news out of Egypt today. The Coptic Christians in Egypt have suffered horribly since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. When he was replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood backed Mohammad Morsi Copts were treated horrible and attacks on them have continued now that Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is president. Al-Sisi is much more supportive of the Copts, but he has been unable to prevent all the attacks against them. And this one was a bad one.

It has been very bad for the Copts in Egypt for years now and this isn't the first time ISIS had hit them. Coptic Christians come under attack by their own neighbors, now ISIS is starting to target them as well. This attack was one of the worst. Not only did they kill at least 37 people in two separate attacks, they did it on a major holiday on the Christian calendar. Palm Sunday is part of the holy week that leads up to Easter and to hit them during that time is a major insult on top of injury. 

Of course, it makes sense to hit these churches during a holy day because it's obvious that there will be more people there than there would be otherwise. Not only is it a devastating insult, it also increased the chances of killing more people. That makes what would already be a horrible attack into a much more effective one. 

I'm not sure why ISIS is targeting Coptic Christians so severely. My understanding of ISIS's interpretation of Islamic Law is that Christians are to be offered the choice of conversion, paying the Jizah tax, exile or, failing that, death. I don't see how these Coptic Christians are even being offered the choice to convert or pay the tax, so it seems that ISIS isn't even following it's own interpretation of Islam. Perhaps there is some other explanation that I am not seeing but it seems fairly hypocritical. 

Despite that, I am not surprised that they are targeting Christians in Egypt in a more general sense. ISIS is fairly brutal towards everyone and the various small groups of Christians left in the Middle East are no exception. I don't know if I buy the explanation given by the ABC/AP report linked to in this post. Though Copts were fairly critical of Mohammad Morsi, and backed his replacement, I don't know why ISIS would care. Though Morsi was closer to ISIS ideologically than he had any right to be, he was still a Western backed leader that didn't pledge allegiance to the Caliphate. Whether or not the Copts backed him seems fairly irrelevant. My guess is that ISIS just hates anyone who isn't their particular brand of Sunni Islam. 

It is fairly disturbing that the Sinai branch of ISIS is becoming so active. They have pulled off some of the most spectacular and deadly terror attacks in recent history, with the destruction of Russian Metrojet flight 9268 being the most deadly, killing 224 people. They have also killed quite a few security forces and made the news for beheading a Croatian man in Egypt as well. Sinai province is starting to seem like ISIS's go to group for well executed terrorist bombings. 

The greatest threat is that ISIS will not only continue to target Coptic Christians but other people as well. Egypt is a country that depends on tourism for a decent part of it's economy and somehow despite the instability and terror attacks people still go there. My fear is that ISIS will end up killing more Westerners like the Croatian Tomislav Salopek or even target some of the more famous archaeological sites, like the Pyramids of Giza, with a terror attack. Such an attack would make world headlines and could kill Egypt's economy for good. Given that Egypt is a crucial ally of the current administration, that would be a massive blow for our plans for the region as well as a major tragedy. 

I am hoping that Egypt's security forces step their game up a bit. They have to clear out ISIS's enclave in the Sinai peninsula and find and kill these men before they can carry out more attacks. The fate of Egypt's Coptic Christian community, already in danger, and indeed, the entire country, depends on them doing so. Egypt can not allow the Sinai to be ISIS's new home after Syria and Iraq are fully liberated... 

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