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Attacks in Egypt: homegrown or part of global jihad?

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"With the domestic groups, everything changed after Luxor,'' says Montasser El-Zayat, a lawyer and former militant who was jailed in the early 1980s. "A new thinking came about that such attacks were not only counterproductive but wrong. The hard-liners either left Egypt or ended up in jail."

Mr. Zayat says he doubts the attacks signal a full-scale return to hostilities between Egypt and domestic Islamists; he's convinced that the ideological shift has stuck.

He's also skeptical that a Palestinian group was behind the attack. Egypt has sought to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians over the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and has recently hosted a number of leaders of the hard-line Palestinian group Hamas. He says he doubts the Palestinians would put that support at risk.

Jemaah Islamiyah has said the attacks were unlawful under Islam. The murders were also condemned by Hamas, which says its attacks are focused on Israel, and other Palestinian groups. Three little-known Islamist groups claimed responsibility. One promised more bombings of "despotic" Egypt.

Al Qaeda and likeminded jihad groups have long attacked Egypt for its peace agreement with Israel and its close ties to the US. Egypt receives more than $2 billion a year in US military and general aid, making it the third-largest recipient in the world after Israel and Iraq.

Mr. Zawahiri, who merged his organization with Al Qaeda in 1998, sees the US as the main threat to Muslims in the world. He has repeatedly urged attacks on America and its allies. "Zawahiri and the people like him fled Egypt and shifted their focus to the US,'' says Zayat.

In that respect, those hard-liners may have now come full circle, seeing Egypt's efforts at mediating with Israel as a betrayal and the Sinai resorts filled with Israeli tourists as rich targets. To many militant groups, Israel and the US are seen as one and the same, particularly since the collapse of peace talks and the start of the latest intifada four years ago.

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