A pro-Islamic State (IS) group media outlet has issued a new threat against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, saying they must be attacked as “infidel fighters” and their churches must be blown up.

28 Copts were killed in an attack for which IS claimed responsibility in which gunmen opened fire on pilgrims travelling to a monastery for Ascension Day

The message, issued by the Wafa Media Foundation, said Copts did not accept dhimmitude – the condition of submission imposed by Sharia (Islamic law) on Christians in Islamic societies, the Vatican-linked Fides news service reported on Friday (10 November). Instead they should be fought because they continue to build churches and even promote television networks to spread the Christian message, Wafa said.

IS’s Egypt affiliate has claimed responsibility for massacres in churches on Palm Sunday and last December, and for an attack on a coach-load of Christian pilgrims in May. In February it issued a video in which it described Copts as its “favourite prey”.

The new threat came days after one of the most senior voices within Sunni Islam said Islam was facing “a war against itself”.

Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar university and mosque, had a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican last Tuesday (7 November), and at an interfaith dialogue conference later that day pledged greater co-operation to fight terrorism.

The Vatican did not release details of the meeting between the two men.

At a meeting organised by the Sant’Egidio Catholic community, Tayeb said Islam was facing “a war against itself”, and stressed that Muslims too were “victims of terrorism”, AFP reported.

“[Terrorism] is a cancer which has metastasised to different parts of the world,” he added.

This handout photo taken and released by the Vatican press office Osservatore Romano on November 7, 2017, shows Pope Francis (R) receiving Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, during a private audience in Vatican. / AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO / Handout

Al-Azhar, he said, “is offering its resources and a greater contribution for a permanent collaboration aimed at finding solutions to terrorism”.

He was speaking at the third in a series of events called ‘East and West: Dialogues of Civilisations’, organised by Sant’Egidio and Al-Azhar. The 7 November roundtable was exploring means of coexistence following a century spanning the end of colonial empires and the rise of globalisation.

“I wish to state my conviction of the necessity for a dialogue between religions, between the wise, or we risk falling back into periods of violence and darkness,” he said.

Tayeb also said that during his meeting with Pope Francis, the pair “discussed several issues tormenting the world and we sought to … find ways together to reduce the suffering of the poor and the unfortunate”.

Pope Francis in April visited Sheikh Tayeb at al-Azhar during a two-day visit to Egypt, and the pair’s first meeting, in May 2016, marked a resumption of dialogue more than five years after the university broke off relations with the Holy See. The Egyptian government had regarded as interference Pope Benedict XVI’s call in 2011 for Middle Eastern governments to adopt, “despite the difficulties and threats, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities” following a deadly attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria.

Tayeb’s comments about terrorism suggest a shift from comments he has made previously.

In April, after Pope Francis in his speech at Al-Azhar attributed violence carried out in the name of religion to an “idolatrous falsification of God”, Tayeb instead pointed a finger at the arms trade and the oblivion that “modern civilisation” has cast over the “divine religions and their invariably established ethics”.

Islam Al-Behairy, a Muslim intellectual jailed for eight months for criticising al-Azhar, told the Rome-based Asia News earlier this year that Tayeb “is a source of perpetual contradiction”. He went on: “In a statement addressed to the West, he says that Islam does not call for killing apostates. But in Egypt, he lets himself say that Islam encourages to do so.”