CAIRO – The deputy to Osama bin Laden issued al-Qaida's second message since the Egyptian uprising, accusing the nation's Christian leadership of inciting interfaith tensions and denying that the terror network was behind last month's bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria that killed 21 and sparked protests.
The message Friday from Ayman al-Zawahri, the No. 2 leader of the terror network, comes amid renewed Muslim-Christian tension over the slaying of a Coptic priest and a dispute involving a monastery.
As with his first message, delivered Feb. 18, al-Zawahri in his new, 35-minute videotape makes no mention of the protests or Hosni Mubarak's fall from power. Al-Qaida had advocated for the destruction of Mubarak's regime — and al-Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor, was part of a failed militant uprising against the former president in the 1990s.
But the pro-democracy tone of the protests, led by secular liberals, contrasted greatly with the Islamic state al-Qaida envisions.
In the latest video, al-Zawahri devoted much of the time to the Muslim-Christian divide. But he denied that his group was behind the Alexandria bombing, according to a transcript by the SITE Intel group, a U.S. group that monitors militant messages.
Ahead of the bombing, extremist Islamic websites affiliated with al-Qaida circulated lists of Coptic churches in Egypt and Europe — including one that was hit on New Year's — along with instructions on how to attack them.
"To start, I want to explain that al-Qaida has no connection with the explosion that happened in the church in Alexandria," he said.
"The first among those who are responsible for setting the situation ablaze is the leadership of the Coptic Orthodox Church under the leadership of the one called Pope Shenouda III," he said.
He blamed the church leader for spreading "belief that the Muslims have occupied Egypt and they must be driven out as they were kicked out of Spain" in the 15th century.
Al-Zawahri accused the Copts of trying to establish an independent state in Egypt.
On Tuesday, a Coptic priest was killed in southern Egypt, triggering street demonstrations by several thousand Christians. The priest was found dead in his home with several stab wounds.
About 3,000 protesters scuffled with Muslim shop owners Tuesday night and smashed the windows of a police car in the city of Assiut.
The next day, around 2,000 Copts gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to protest reports that an Egyptian army unit had attacked a desert monastery earlier on Wednesday. The protesters said that a military unit using armored vehicles had demolished newly-built fences surrounding the old monastery. They claimed that the soldiers fired live bullets at monks.
Egypt's military council, which has been ruling the country since the Feb. 11 ouster of Mubarak, said the soldiers were removing "some walls that had been illegally built on the road and on land owned by the state."