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Top Muslim Leader Urges Broader Action Against Islamist Militants

Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province, Syria, June 30, 2014.

A prominent Muslim cleric said on Wednesday the U.S.-led coalition carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State insurgents should widen its scope to include all other militant groups that were tarnishing Islam.

Islamic State, an offshoot of al-Qaida, has seized wide areas of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate to try to revive theocratic rule that prevailed in the region more than 1,000 years ago. Its militants have beheaded some prisoners and been accused of massacring and enslaving non-Sunni Muslims.

"The international coalition must call on all its material and moral energies to eradicate this terrorism, in all its manifestations, doctrines and schools, and to confront the countries that support it," Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheik of Al Azhar, told a conference on fighting extremism.

"If it does this, the coalition is defending its own people first, before the people of the east."

Cairo's ancient Al Azhar is one of the world's most venerable centers of Islamic learning and the grand sheik is considered to be among the most pre-eminent authorities in Sunni Islam, influencing the views of Muslims worldwide.

"I ask myself... day and night," Tayeb said, "about the reasons for this Arab ordeal and this blind discord that is mixed with the smell of blood and death and explosions and the beheadings of people and the expulsion of millions with a brutality that is unknown in history. These barbaric and awful crimes are sullying this religion."