All Christians in the Middle East are now "legitimate targets," al Qaeda in Iraq announced Wednesday, as the group's deadline for Egypt's Coptic church to release alleged Muslim female prisoners expired.
An audio message released Monday gave the church 48 hours to disclose the status of Muslim women it said are imprisoned in Coptic churches in Egypt.
The message purportedly came from the Islamic State of Iraq, which claimed responsibility for an attack on a Baghdad church Sunday that killed 58 people and wounded 75. The umbrella group includes a number of Sunni extremist organizations and has ties to al Qaeda in Iraq.
The group said the women's alleged plight was the reason it stormed the church.
Wednesday, the group released a new message saying, "The Ministry of War of Islamic State of Iraq declares that all the centers, organizations and bodies of Christian leaders and followers have become legitimate targets by the Mujahedeens, wherever our hands will reach them."