The Assiut branch of ultra-conservative Islamist group Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya said on Thursday it had not taken part in recent attacks against churches and property belonging to Egyptian Christians.
On Wednesday, Egypt saw nationwide clashes between supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and police after two pro-Morsi sit-ins were forcefully dispersed. Dozens of churches nationwide – several of which were in Assiut in Upper Egypt - were attacked by defiant protesters.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya said unknown citizens had infiltrated local anti-government rallies and carried out the attacks to inflame sectarian strife. The group insisted it had only practiced its constitutional right of peaceful protest.
It also denied any part in attacks on police stations in the area.
According to a statement by the interior ministry, at least seven churches were torched across Egypt during Wednesday’s clashes.
Activists from the Maspero Youth Union put the numbers at 37 churches "completely destroyed" with many others attacked.
The violence in Egypt left 638 dead and almost 4,000 injured nationwide, according to official counts. The Muslim Brotherhood, who led the sit-ins, claim the death toll is eight or nine times higher.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya said in its statement that it had tried and failed to prevent protesters, who were “provoked” by the use of force by security forces, from committing violent acts.