CAIRO (AP) — The leader of an Islamic State affiliate in Egypt vowed to escalate attacks against Christians, urging Muslims to steer clear of Christian gatherings and western embassies as they are targets of their group's militants.
"Targeting the churches is part of our war on infidels," the unidentified leader said in a lengthy interview published by the group's al-Nabaa newsletter on Thursday. He said that churches, security posts and institutions, as well as places where "crusader nationals of western countries" gather were all "legitimate targets."
He also called on Muslims who don't join jihadists to carry out lone wolf attacks across Egypt, and complained that a large number of Egyptians were antagonistic to his group's call and mission.
"This is an apostasy from Islam and they have to hurry up and repent," he said, urging Egyptians who oppose the group to either harbor, support, or join them. He also decried the public condemnations of the group's attacks. He added that when authorities carry out security campaign against the group they "backfire" and, as such, have a "positive impact on the Mujahedeen."
The group claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings that struck two of the country's Coptic Christian churches last month, killing over 45 worshippers and prompting the president to declare a three-month state of emergency.
Egypt's Copts, the Middle East's largest Christian community, have repeatedly complained of suffering discrimination, as well as outright attacks, at hands of the country's majority Muslim population. Over the past decades, they have been the immediate targets of Islamic extremists. They rallied behind general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in 2013 when he ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group. Attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches subsequently surged, especially in the country's south.
The IS leader in the interview stated that his group is different from the Sinai-based IS branch which for the past years has been carrying out near-daily attacks against police and the military in the peninsula. He described relations between the two factions as marked by "brotherly love and loyalty."