Al-Qaida Targets Knights of Malta

This week’s Corridors of Power reports that al-Qaida is targeting a medical and humanitarian aid organization:

AL-QAIDA TARGETS CRUSADERS — The Roman Catholic Knights of Malta are the last surviving remnant of the Christian Crusades against Muslim occupation of the Holy Land. Today, their historic order is an international humanitarian organization with its own hospitals, clinics, and medical teams. For example, St. John relief services provide on-scene emergency help at major disasters. But its crusading past (nine centuries ago) has made it a target of Islamic militants, and some Arab media have recently claimed that the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (the order’s full name) was involved in military operations in Iraq.

The inevitable next step was that a Web site close to al-Qaida urged jihadists to attack the order’s embassy in Cairo. With headquarters in Rome, the order maintains diplomatic relations with a number of countries, and has observer status in the United Nations.

The militant Web site even linked the organization to security firms in Iraq, such as Blackwater. The Order issued a statement calling the allegations “entirely unfounded.” The order’s current 12,500 knights help finance an institution that — the statement said — “works every day to help the elderly, the handicapped, refugees, children, the homeless, those with terminal illness and leprosy in the five continents of the world, without distinction of race or religion.”

The reference to Rhodes and Malta in the order’s name reflects the two successive locations where the order settled following the final withdrawal of the Crusades from the Holy Land in the early 16th century. Its knights governed Malta for nearly 250 years. The Order was originally religious as well as military, with its members taking a vow of chastity. A handful of the present knights, including the present grand master, Andrew Bertie, a prominent English Catholic, still adhere to the chastity rule.

Read all of this week’s Corridors of Power here. See here for past editions of the weekly column by WPR Editor-at-Large Roland Flamini.