By Jason Szep and Shadi Bushra
Egypt’s foreign minister said on Saturday ties existed between Islamic State, the group holding large parts of Iraq and Syria, and other militants in the region and that global action was needed to counter the threat.
Sameh Shukri, speaking at a Cairo news conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry, said regional militant groups shared the same ideology and must be dealt with.
Egypt’s call for international action could bolster Kerry’s bid to gather support for President Barack Obama’s plan to strike both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi frontier to defeat Islamic State Sunni fighters.
“Ultimately this extremist ideology is shared by all terrorist groups. We detect ties of cooperation between them and see a danger as it crosses borders,” said Shukri.
“We believe that rejecting terrorism is a collective responsibility of all members of the international community. There should be definite steps to achieve this target.”
Kerry won backing on Thursday for a “coordinated military campaign” against Islamic State from 10 Arab countries — Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states including rich rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
But it is unclear what role individual nations will play.
Kerry said on Saturday that Egypt, seen as the intellectual centre of the Arab world, has a critical role to play in countering Islamic State’s ideology.
The United States wants Egypt to use its leading Islamic authority Al-Azhar, a thousand-year-old seat of religious learning, to send a message of moderation across the Middle East to counter Islamic State’s extremist ideology.
“As an intellectual and cultural capital of the Muslim world, Egypt has a critical role to play in publicly renouncing the ideology ISIL disseminates,” said Kerry, referring to the group by its former name Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Kerry’s message in Cairo comes two days after he urged Gulf Arab foreign ministers to suppress all financing of Islamic State, including private money in countries such as Qatar and Kuwait where US officials say enforcement has been weak.
The United States called on each country to work with clerics to convey a message that Islamic State’s ideas are contrary to Islam, and to use their influence on regional television stations to broadcast anti-extremist programming.
EGYPT FEARS TIES BETWEEN GROUPS
Egyptian security officials fear they face a threat from Egyptian militants based across the border in Libya and from the Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Egypt’s most dangerous militant group. Both are linked to or inspired by Islamic State.
“We are working with international efforts to combat terrorism whether in Libya or Iraq or any other Arab country,” said Shukri.
Obama’s plan to fight Islamic State simultaneously in Iraq and Syria thrusts the United States directly into the midst of two different wars, in which nearly every country in the region has a stake, alliances have shifted and strategy is dominated by Islam’s 1,300-year-old rift between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
Islamic State is made up of Sunni militants, who are fighting a Shi’ite-led government in Iraq and a government in Syria led by members of a Shi’ite offshoot sect.
In Syria, Turkey has backed mainly Sunni rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad. Although it is alarmed by Islamic State’s rise, Turkey is wary about any military action that might weaken Assad’s foes, and is concerned about strengthening Kurds in Iraq and Syria.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil told Reuters some Arab states at talks in Jeddah on Thursday had proposed expanding the campaign to fight other Islamist groups besides Islamic State, a move Turkey would also probably oppose.
Egypt would welcome any move that would further isolate the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that the army removed from power last year.
Egyptian authorities have cracked down on the Brotherhood, killing hundreds of members and jailing thousands of others. Egypt has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group.
Qatar has asked seven senior figures from Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to leave the country, the movement said on Saturday, following months of pressure on the Gulf Arab state from its neighbours to stop backing the Islamists.