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Qaeda group says Christians "legitimate targets"

As deadline for Egypt's Coptic church expires

An Iraqi group linked to al-Qaeda declared Christians "legitimate targets" as a deadline expired for Egypt's Coptic church to free women allegedly held after converting to Islam, SITE monitors said Wednesday.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) said in an Internet statement its action was justified by the church's refusal to indicate the status of the women it said were being held captive in monasteries, the U.S.-based monitoring group said.

"All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers, are legitimate targets for the mujahedeen (holy warriors) wherever they can reach them," said the statement.