Italy: Knights of Malta rejects alleged link to military action

Rome, 14 Dec. (AKI) - The Roman Catholic Order of Malta on Friday rejected suggestions that it is in any way involved in military activity in Iraq or any other country in the world.

The organisation responded to a message posted a week ago on Islamist websites close to al-Qaeda, urging jihadists to carry out a terrorist attack on its embassy in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

The message urging the attack followed an editorial in the UAE daily al-Bayan, by Jordanian MP Jamal Muhammad Abidat claiming the order was playing a direct role in conflicts in the Middle East, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Such statements, as well as causing deep upset because they are unfounded, have been expressed about an humanitarian organisation that helps the weak and disadvantaged in 120 countries around the world with medical and humanitarian programs," the organisation said in a statement.

The order, better known as the Knights of Malta, stressed that more than once there had been confusion in many countries about names and symbols that were similar to its organisation.

"The Order of Malta's mission is exclusively to help the poor, the sick and the most needy," the statement said.

"Created in Jerusalem more than nine centuries ago, its focus today is international public rights. With its headquarters in Rome, it is neutral, impartial and apolitical."

The organisation has 12,500 members and 80,000 volunteers that helps the elderly, children, the disabled, lepers, refugees and those with terminal illnesses on five continents without distinctions between race or religion.

The message posted on 6 December called for Egyptians to attack the organisation's Cairo office.

"Do not stint on your attacks, Egyptians, either with car or truck bombs," read the message.

In the newspaper article, Abidat gave a Muslim interpretation of the Order's history, describing the role played by the Knights of Malta during the Crusades. Abidat claimed the Order is playing the same role in the Middle East today.

"The painful saga of modern Arab-Muslim history evokes the battles fought in Crusades of the 11th century - when the Knights of Malta began their operations as a Christian militia whose mission it was to defend the land conquered by the Crusaders."

Abidat accused the Order of Malta of being run by men who are close to US president George W. Bush and neo-conservative political circles.

"You cannot exaggerate it. The Order of Malta is a hidden government or the most mysterious government in the world," said Abidat in the editorial.

The Rome-based Order of Malta, whose full name is the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, is also known as The Knights of Malta.

It began as an organisation founded in Jerusalem in 1080, to care for poor and sick pilgrims to the Holy Land.

The Order of Malta retains its claim of sovereignty under international law and has been granted permanent observer status at the United Nations. It issues its own passports, stamps and coins and has formal diplomatic relations with 99 states.


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