The brutal massacre of at least 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Alexandria on New Year''s Eve has once again drawn attention to jihadi attacks against vulnerable Christian minorities in the Middle East. 

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The latest attack follows a wave of ruthless strikes against Christian civilians in Iraq by al-Qaeda, and comes 2 months after al-Qaeda in Iraq said all Christians in  Middle Eastern states were legitimate targets, leading to enhanced security around churches and Christian community centers around the region. 

Al-Qaeda-affiliated forces operating in Egypt and elsewhere hope the church bombing will undermine efforts at peaceful coexistence between the country''s Muslim majority and Christian minority, while also seeking to harm the Mubarak government, which, like all Arab-Muslim governments, is viewed by jihadi ideologues and al-Qaeda''s leadership as an illegitimate Western puppet regime they accuse of repressing and dividing the "true Muslims."

Inspired by the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in his native Egypt in 1966, jihadis consider the whole world to be a "land of war," and view Arab-Muslim countries as their foremost targets, identifying them as obstacles standing in the way of establishing a "true" house of Islam. 

The bombing is therefore part of a larger battle within the Muslim world, with state-sponsored Muslim authorities denouncing al-Qaeda as perverse distortions of Islam.

CNN cited a spokesman for Al-Azhar University, Egypt''s most prestigious center of Islamic scholarship, as telling Nile TV: "This is a criminal act that can never be justified (in) any religion. Islam specifically prohibits any attacks on religious places. As a matter of fact, it tasks Muslims with protecting religious places of worship for Muslims and non-Muslims."

My book, Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books, Inc.) published this month, provides a close examination of how al-Qaeda has been exploiting the internet to establish an online state. 


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