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This weekend, all 224 people aboard a Russian passenger plane died when it mysteriously crashed over Egypt. Now, an executive from Kogalymavia airlines has told reporters that they believe "an external influence” caused the plane to break into pieces mid-flight. According to his statement, officials have ruled out “technical problems and reject human error"—which is contrary to initial reports from Egyptian media. Officials in both countries however say that claims of responsibility from ISIS militants are without merit. The plane was in the air only 20 minutes when ground control personnel said it vanished from radar, and, according must have experienced “a mechanical impact.” Recording and tracking devices on the plane have been recovered from the crash scene, though officials are still in the process of mining the data. The Egypt Prime Minister's Office also released several images (like this one from Suliman el-Oteify) showing officials investigating the scene of crash. Discuss

Egyptian prosecutor Hisham Barakat—who has brought thousands of Islamists to trial including former president of Egypt Mohammed Morsi—has been killed after a convoy he was traveling in was struck by a car bomb. Many of the individuals and Muslim Brotherhood supporters he prosecuted were sentence to death or life in prison. According to the BBC, ISIS has called for new attacks against Egyptian officials after the government recently hanged six ISIS fighters. Discuss

On Sunday, ISIS released a video that reportedly depicted the beheading of 21 Christian Egyptian men by masked militants. The video of the kidnapped men—which was believed to have been filmed in Libya—was titled "A Message signed with blood to the nation of the cross." The global security firm Flashpoint told NBC News, "This undeniably means that the group now views Christian populations as not only targets but also part of the bigger 'Crusader plot,' not separate from the US-led coalition or aggressors." The militants made references to wanting to “conquer Rome,” underscoring the religious motivations of the executions.

They referred to their victims as “people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church," and the clip included a caption addressing the video as a “message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi issued a statement wishing condolences to the families of the victims, calling for a 7-day period of mourning and promising to help evacuate Egyptian citizens from Libya. Over night, the Egyptian military launched a series of airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya. The country’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement explaining, "Leaving the situation as it is in Libya without a firm intervention to curtail these terrorist organizations would be a threat to international peace and security" ... Discuss

Four people were killed—including an 8-year-old girl—and 17 were wounded yesterday in the latest attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt. According to witnesses, two gunmen on a motorcycle took part in a drive-by shooting as wedding guests were leaving a Christian church in Cairo. The country’s Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi issued a statement following the attack, condemning violence against the religious minority, saying such acts will "not succeed in sowing divisions between the nation's Muslims and Christians." Since the ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi back in July, Christians have increasingly been the targets of violence and discrimination. After an Aug. 14 raid on protest camps of supporters of Morsi, 40 Coptic Christian churches were destroyed by Islamic groups, many of whom blame the Christians for the coup that led to the removal of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. Following this weekend’s attack, the top cleric at the Sunni Muslim institute, Al-Azhar University, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, issued a statement calling the violence “a criminal act that runs contrary to both religion and morals" … Discuss

According to this story from The Washington Times, Muslim Brotherhood authorities in the Egyptian village of Dalga have begun forcing the area’s 15,000 Christians to pay a “jizya” unless they convert to Islam. Koran scholar Raymond Ibrahim explained that jizya is a payment “that conquered non-Muslims historically had to pay to their Islamic overlords ‘with willing submission and while feeling themselves subdued’ to safeguard their existence.” The report says that Christian families that have been unable to pay the daily tax have been attacked, and many others have begun to flee the region.

There have also been similar reports coming out of Syria—a region also entangled in a civil conflict in which Christians have been subject to persecution. This weekend, The Christian Science Monitor reported that rebels went into a Christian man’s shop and gave him three options: “Become Muslim; pay $70,000 as a tax levied on non-Muslims, known as jizya; or be killed along with his family.” The shopkeeper and his family fled to neighboring Jordan as reports of further attacks on Christians continue to grow … Discuss

According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, in the last 10 days, 37 Christian churches have either been completely destroyed or badly damaged throughout Egypt, and authorities are being accused of doing nothing to protect the Christian houses of worship. In a statement, Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Joe Stork said, “For weeks, everyone could see these attacks coming, with Muslim Brotherhood members accusing Coptic Christians of a role in Mohammad Morsy's ouster, but the authorities did little or nothing to prevent them.” There have also been reports of numerous attacks on Christian schools, businesses and even orphanages throughout the country. Human Rights Watch has released this video, documenting the violence as an effort to raise awareness about the persecution facing Christians in the country … Discuss