Published: 11:00 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 03 March 2011
Al-Qaeda denies causing Egypt church blast
Country/Region: Egypt, Middle East and North Africa
Leader blames Christians for country's interfaith tensions
An Al-Qaeda leader has denied that the terror network was behind the bombing of an Egyptian church that killed 21 people on New Year's Day - despite threats before the event.
Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahri said in a message on Friday (25 February) that Al-Qaeda had "no connection" with the explosion at the church in Alexandria.
Before the blast, however, Islamist websites affiliated with the group circulated lists of Egyptian churches, including the one that was targeted, with instructions on how to attack them.
This followed threats by the Islamic State of Iraq, an Al-Qaeda front group that falsely accused the Egyptian Church of holding Muslim women captive. It said Christians everywhere were "legitimate targets" when a 48-hour deadline for the release of the women - issued during a hostage siege at a Baghdad church last October in which 58 people were killed - expired.
The inflammatory and unfounded remarks follow further attacks on Egypt's beleaguered Christian community. Church leader Dawoud Botrous was found stabbed to death at his home in the city of Assiut, Upper Egypt, on Tuesday (22 February), prompting demonstrations involving thousands of Christians demanding the arrest of the murderers.
Further protests were sparked when Egyptian armed forces stormed ancient Christian monasteries, firing live ammunition at the monks and demolishing fences they had erected to protect themselves when law and order broke down during the revolutionary protests. Several monks and monastery workers were wounded.
Show of unity
In response to the sectarian tension triggered by these incidents, seven Muslim and five Christian leaders in Assiut issued a joint statement condemning the killing of Dawoud Botros and calling for the killers to be brought to justice.
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