The West has an interest in the "fragmentation" of the Islamic world and is partly to blame for the rise of Islamic State (ISIS), one of the world's top Muslim clerics claimed to AFP in an interview on Tuesday.
Speaking on the sidelines of a seminar in Florence, Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo, strongly criticized Western powers and particularly the United States.
Describing himself as "an ordinary citizen" given that the Sunni Muslim seat of learning has no political role, the imam said: "The emergence of Daesh (an Arabic term for ISIS) in such a spontaneous manner leads us to ask what are the deep causes.
"And the man in the Arab street thinks that the West has something to do with it. The arms Daesh has are American, they are not made in the Arab world.
"ISIS developed so quickly and that required enormous amounts of capital. Where did these enormous sums of money come from? The man in the street says the West is not serious about taking on Daesh."
Trying to support his conspiracy theory, Tayeb cited three parachute drops of arms which ended up in the arms of ISIS fighters.
"They said it was a mistake," he said, while sidestepping a question about the documented role of some Arab states, notably in the Gulf, in the development and financing of ISIS.
"If the world order – otherwise said: America and the world – had wanted Arab cooperation in dismantling ISIS and its sisters and daughters, they could have done it in a single day.
"The world order wants chaos, it seems it has the intention of fragmenting our region and ISIS is a very effective instrument. The ISIS performs a function for the great powers who do not want to see this region develop alongside Israel."
Changing topics, the imam said he would be happy to meet the pope but played down the importance of such an encounter. "If everything was in the hands of the pope or other religious leaders the thing could be resolved very quickly."
"But the question is not about the pope or Al-Azhar, it depends on the political regimes which plan military, economic and financial policy. It is the powers that have military bases and fleets in Arab waters."
Asked about death sentences issued to members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tayeb declined to offer any criticism of the military-backed government.
"I see that Egypt has overcome the problem. It is a stable country with a fundamental law under which a president was elected, and that was a democratic choice, completely democratic.
"Egypt is convalescing but we are are seeing an influx of investors who are returning," he said.
Asked about the Syrian and Iraqi Christians forced to flee their homes at the hands of ISIS, the imam replied: "ISIS has killed more Muslims than Christians.
"If you look at the percentages of victims, you will see that ISIS is an enemy of the Arab and Muslim world, and is perhaps working in secret coordination to fragment the Arab world."
The imam did not explain how the US-led Western coalition conducting an extensive and expensive airstrike campaign to fight ISIS fits in to his conspiracy theory blaming the West for ISIS.