"Al-Qaeda has no real presence in Egypt," Mohammed al-Zawahiri told Arabic satellite TV network al-Arabiya on Monday, disavowing claims last week by Islamic Jihad leader Nabil Naim that Al-Qaeda has "no more than 500 members" in the country, most in the Sinai.
Zawahiri was speaking to reporters outside a Cairo court ahead of questioning by prosecutors after Egyptian TV networks aired footage of him taking part in a Salafite sit-in in the al-Abbasiya quarter of the capital earlier this month.
At least 11 anti-government protesters were killed and dozens killed in clashes in al-Abbasiya on 2 May, where the defence ministry is housed. The protest was organised by supporters of of Salafist politician Salah Abu Ismail, who was excluded from a list of presidential candidates in polls slated for 23 and 24 May, according to the al-Wafd Egyptian newspaper.
Zawahiri, a member of Islamic Jihad, spent 10 years in prison in Egypt on militancy charges and was cleared of terrorism charges and released after a re-trial in an Egyptian military court in March 2012.
Zawahiri was extradited from the United Arab Emirates in the late 1990s. He is one of a group of Islamists put on trial on suspicion of involvement in attacks on an array of Egyptian targets.