Egyptian Sheikh Calls for Destroying Pyramids, Sphinx

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- A Salafist cleric in Egypt has called for the destruction of the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, citing Islamic law on eliminating idols.

Sheikh Murgan Salem al-Gohary issued the call during an interview Saturday on Egypt's Dream TV's Channel 2, al-Masry al-Youm reported.

"The idols and statues that fill Egypt must be destroyed," the sheikh said. "Muslims are tasked with applying the teachings of Islam and removing these idols, just like we did in Afghanistan when we smashed the Buddha statues," he said, referring to the Taliban's destruction of two ancient statues in 2001, in which he took part.

In a similar incident last February, Salafists broke into the national museum in the Maldives during a coup that ousted President Mohamed Nasheed and destroyed ancient Buddhist artifacts dating to the 11th and 12th centuries.

According to al-Masry al-Youm's report, a source in Egypt's Interior Ministry told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat daily on Monday that Egypt is taking al-Gohary's call seriously and have taken "the necessary precautions" to protect the country's archaeological treasures.

Sheikh al-Gohary is well known in Egypt for advocating violence, al-Masry al-Youm reports. Under former President Hosni Mubarak's regime, he was twice sentenced to prison, once for life, but he managed to flee to Afghanistan, where he was seriously injured in a U.S. airstrike.

In 2007, he moved to Syria until he was deported back to Egypt and imprisoned. In early 2011, following Mubarak's ouster, a judicial ruling secured his release.

The Salafist al-Nour party's success in Egypt's legislative elections last spring, in which it won a respectable 25 percent of parliamentary mandates, has emboldened its determination to weave Islamic Sharia into the social and political fabric of the country.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has yet to respond to al-Gohary's call to destroy the nation's ancient treasures.

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