A leader with the Islamic State terrorist group has warned Muslims to stay away from Christian gatherings in Egypt, as the group is planning to carry out more massacres in the coming months.
"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, who was not named, said in an interview in the ISIS Al Naba weekly newspaper, according to the MailOnline.
The warning comes less than a month after 49 were people killed in twin attacks on churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday. ISIS took responsibility for the bombings, which have since been recognized as the deadliest attack against Egypt's Coptic Christians in years.
Three days later, extremists slit the throat of a 16-year-old Coptic Christian boy in an attempt to further intimidate believers ahead of Easter, as reported by GH. The group also claimed responsibility for the December bombing of a church adjacent to St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, one of the most symbolic religious sites for Egyptian Copts. That explosion killed 30 worshippers and injured dozens.
Earlier this year, the group vowed to step up its attacks against Egypt's Christian minority, who account for about 10 percent of the 92 million population. The continued targeting of religious minorities prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare a state of emergency and vow to protect them from extremism.
Despite such promises, Reuters reports that interviews with residents of North Sinai and reviews of ISIS videos suggest the group's local affiliate, known as Sinai Province, is seeking to impose its hardline interpretation of Islam on the local populace.
The group has reportedly created a morality police force, known as a Hisba, to enforce strict rules against "un-Islamic behavior" such as smoking, men shaving their beards or women exposing their faces.
In a video released in March, jihadists announce the creation of a Hisba and denounced Christians and Sufi Muslims. It also showed extremist "police" hitting one man with plastic tubing and beheading two elderly adherents of Sufi Islam, accusing them of sorcery and apostasy.
However, the continued persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS did not deter Pope Francis from visiting the country's Christian community last month, notes Newsweek. Speaking at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, he encouraged Christians to participate in a "fanaticism of charity" to those who carry out evil acts in the name of religion and called on Muslims to promote co-existence with Christians.
"Any other type of fanaticism does not come from God, and is not pleasing to him," Francis said. "True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane...it makes us see the other not as an enemy to be overcome but a brother or sister to be loved, served and helped."