ISIS leader warns Egyptian Muslims to stay away from Christian gatherings

(Reuters/Ahmed Aboulenein)Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt February 24, 2017.

The leader of the Islamic State terror group in Egypt has warned Muslims to stay away from Christian gatherings, suggesting that there may be further attacks against Coptic Christians after the two suicide bombings that killed at least 45 people last month.

In the latest release of the terror group's weekly Al Naba newspaper, the unnamed leader said that churches, security posts, institutions and places where "crusader nationals of western countries" gather were all "legitimate targets."

"We are warning you to stay away from Christian gatherings, as well as the gatherings of the army and the police, and the areas that have political government facilities," the leader said, according to Newsweek.

He also urged Muslims who do not join jihadis to carry out lone wolf attacks across Egypt and complained that many Egyptians are opposed to the group's campaign.

"This is an apostasy from Islam and they have to hurry up and repent," the leader said while calling on Egyptians who oppose the group to either harbor, support or join them.

He contended that security campaigns against the group tend to "backfire" and have a "positive impact on the Mujahedeen."

In February, ISIS released a video in which the group referred to Christians as its "favorite prey."

More than 150 Christian families fled from the northern town of El-Arish later that month after ISIS jihadists shot and killed at least seven Christians.

The militants have previously focused on targeting Christians in its base of the northern Sinai Peninsula, but it has shifted its focus to targets elsewhere in Egypt.

In December, more than two dozen people were killed in an attack at a Christian cathedral in Cairo during a Sunday mass procession.

Coptic Christians have long complained about suffering discrimination and outright attacks from the country's majority Muslim population.

Egyptian Christians supported general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in 2013 when he ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood group. Since that time, attacks on Christian homes, businesses and churches have surged, especially in the country's south.

The ISIS leader noted in the interview that his group is different from the Sinai-based ISIS affiliate which has been carrying out near-daily attacks against the police and the military in the past few years. He said that the relationship between the two groups is marked by "brotherly love and loyalty."

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