On the morning of May 26, Mohsen Morkous, a 60-year-old Egyptian-American Christian from the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park, was traveling with his two sons, a grandson, and dozens of others to a religious retreat. Their bus convoy was ambushed by Islamic State (also known as ISIS) jihadists in Egypt’s rural Minya Province. The men and boys were separated from the women, forced off the bus, and commanded to recite the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith. When they refused, 28 of them, including Morkous and seven family members, were shot in the head at point-blank range.
Despite Morkous being an American citizen, the attack was a one-day news story in the United States. In part that may be because it was overshadowed by the ISIS attacks in Manchester and London, which occurred around the same time. But there is also the disturbing possibility that attacks on Coptic Christians have become so commonplace in Egypt over recent months that they are losing the interest of Western audiences.
It would be a mistake, however, to overlook the slaughter of these pilgrims in Egypt and the slaughter of Christians by ISIS in general. Nor should one ignore how such attacks might affect U.S. national interests in the Middle East. Egyptian Copts, numbering about nine million, form the region’s largest Christian population and largest non-Muslim population of any kind. If Islamist extremists are allowed to proceed with the systematic destruction of the Coptic community—as they did with the Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq—the region will be fundamentally altered and Egypt and its neighbors will be destabilized for decades to come.
ISIS’ TOP TARGET
Two years ago, Copts became the icon of ISIS’ genocide against Middle Eastern Christians when the terror group released a graphic video of 21 Copts being ritually beheaded on a Libyan beach. Just before their throats were slit by the black-clad jihadists, the Coptic captives could be heard in the audio, in an apparent ISIS editorial slipup, whispering shahada and dying with a Christian prayer on their lips. Across the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem—revered by Christians as the site of the resurrection of Jesus Christ—the Coptic Orthodox Church has put up a large banner bearing a still from the ISIS video of these Coptic martyrs.
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