The Sovereign Military Order of St John, better known as the Order of the Knights of Malta, has strongly denied allegations of military involvement in Iraq or in any other country. Reacting to statements on Arabic newspapers and websites the Order said:

"Following the articles published in recent days in some Arabic language newspapers, the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St.John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta wishes to state emphatically that the allegations of any military involvement by the Order in Iraq or in any other country are entirely without foundation.These statements, as well as creating deep concern because they are entirely unfounded, have been made about a humanitarian institution whose sole aim is, with its exclusively medical and humanitarian programmes, to help the weakest and most disadvantaged in 120 countries around the world.

"The Order of Malta points out, once again, the phenomenon of persons and organisms which create misunderstandings and confusion in many countries by using names and symbols which are similar to those of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St.John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta.

"The mission of the Order of Malta is exclusively to be at the service of the poor, the sick and the most needy. Founded in Jerusalem over nine centuries ago, today a sovereign subject of international law, with its seat of government in Rome it is neutral, impartial and apolitical. The 12,500 members of the Order of Malta, its 80,000 permanent volunteers, together with 13,000 medical personnel – doctors, nurses, auxiliaries and paramedics - work 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."

Last week, a website close to al-Qaeda urged Islamic militants to attack the Order’s embassy in Cairo. The statement came in the wake of an article in the UAE newspaper Al-Bayan which spoke on the Order’s history fighting Muslims in the Middle Ages. It claimed the Order has the same purpose today.

It also said there were links between security firms in Iraq, such as Blackwater, and the Order. Blackwater was in the news in September after its security officers shot and killed several Iraqi civilians.

Picture: Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed by the Grand Master of the Order of Malta Fra’ Andrew Bertie during his pastoral visit to the Roman Hospital "San Giovanni Battista" of the Order of Malta in Rome earlier this month.

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