Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya

Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya

:"For the Southeast Asian organization of the same name, see Jemaah Islamiyah."al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya ( _ar. الجماعه الإسلاميه ) (Arabic for "the Islamic Group"; also transliterated Gamaat Islamiya, Jamaat al Islamiya, al-Jamā'ah al-Islāmiyah etc.) is a militant Egyptian Islamist movement that is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union [] and Egyptian governments. The group is (or was) dedicated to the overthrow of the Egyptian government and replacing it with an Islamic state.

The now imprisoned cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman is the spiritual leader of the movement. The group is reported to be responsible for the killing of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981; and hundreds of civilians, dozens of tourists and over 100 Egyptian policemen in a terror campaign in the 1990s. In 2003 the group renounced bloodshed but three years later there were reports of an alliance with terror group al-Qaeda.


Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya began as an umbrella organization for militant student groups, formed, like the Islamic Jihad, after the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s. In its early days, the group was primarily active on university campuses, and was mainly composed of university students. In addition, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya recruited some inmates of Egyptian jails. Its membership has since become poorer, younger, and less well educated; its main base of recruiting and support has moved away from universities to poor neighborhoods of cities, and to rural areas.

Assassination of president Anwar Sadat in 1981

Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya may have been indirectly involved in the assassination of president Anwar Sadat in 1981. Karam Zuhdi, group leader of Al-Jamaa Islamiya, expressed regret for conspiring with Egyptian Islamic Jihad in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. He was among the 900 militants who were set free in April 2006 by the Egyptian government. []

Omar Abdel-Rahman

The cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman is the spiritual leader of the movement. He was accused of participating in the World Trade Center 1993 bombings conspiracy, and was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his espousal of a subsequent conspiracy to bomb New York City landmarks, including the United Nations and FBI offices. The Islamic Group has publicly threatened to retaliate against the United States unless Rahman is released from prison. However, the group later renounced violence and their leaders and members were released from prison in Egypt.

1990s terror campaign

While the Islamic group had originally been an amorphous movement of local groups centered in mosques without offices or membership roll, by the late 1980s it became more organized and "even adopted an official logo: an upright sword standing on an open Qur'an with an orange sun rising in the background," encircled by the Qur'anic verse "that Abdel Rahman had quoted at his trials while trying to explain jihad to the judges: وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّى لاَ تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ لِلّهِ فَإِنِ انتَهَواْ فَلاَ عُدْوَانَ إِلاَّ عَلَى الظَّالِمِينَ / Fight them on until there is no more Tumult, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression. This become the group's "official motto." ["Passion for Islam : Shaping the Modern Middle East: the Egyptian Experience" by Caryle Murphy, (2002), p.65]

The 1990s saw Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya engage in an extended campaign of violence, from the murders and attempted murders of prominent writers and intellectuals, to the repeated targeting of tourists and foreigners. This did serious damage to the largest sector of Egypt's economy ["Solidly ahead of oil, Suez Canal revenues, and remittances, tourism is Egypt's main hard currency earner at $6.5 billion per year." (in 2005) [ ... concerns over tourism's future ] accessed 27 September 2007] and in turn to the government, but it also devastated the livelihoods of many of the people on whom the group depends for support.

Victims of campaign against the Egyptian state from 1992-1997 totaled more than 1200 [Wright, "Looming Towers", (2006), p.258] and included the head of the counter-terrorism police (Major General Raouf Khayrat), a speaker of parliamentary (Rifaat al-Mahgoub), dozens of European tourists and Egyptian bystanders, and over 100 Egyptian police. [ [ Timeline of modern Egypt] ] The Copts, Christians of Egypt of ancient Egyptian backgrounds, were particularly targeted by the terrorists.

The 1991 killing of the group's leader, Ala Mohieddin, presumably by security forces, led Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya to murder Egypt's speaker of parliament in retaliation. In June 1995, working together with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the group staged a carefully planned attempt on the life of president Mubarak, lead by Mustafa Hamza, a senior Egyptian member of the Al-Qaeda and commander of the military branch of the Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. Mubarak escaped unharmed and retaliated with a massive and ruthless crackdown on GI members and their families in Egypt. [Wright, "Looming Towers", (2006), p.213-5]

Nonviolence Initiative

By 1997 the movement had become paralyzed. 20,000 Islamists were in custody in Egypt and thousands more had been cut down by the security forces. In July of that year, Islamist lawyer Montassir al-Zayyat brokered a deal between the Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Egyptian government, called the Nonviolence Initiative, whereby the movement formally renounced violence. The next year the government released 2000 members of the Islamic Group. After the initiative was declared Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman also gave his approval from his prison cell in the United States, though he later withdrew it.

The initiative divided the Islamic Group between members in Egypt who supported it and those in exile who wanted the attacks to continue. Leading the opposition was EIJ leader Ayman Zawahiri who termed it "surrender" in angry letters to the London newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat. [Wright, "Looming Towers", (2006), p.255-6]

Temple of Hatshepsut attack

Zawahiri enlisted Mustafa Hamza, the new emir of Islamic Groups and its military leader, Rifai Ahmed Taha, both exiles in Afghanistan with him, to sabotage the initiative with a massive terror attack that would provoke the government into repression. [Wright, "Looming Towers", (2006), p.256-7] So on November 17, 1997 Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya killing campaign climaxed with the attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut (Deir el-Bahri) in Luxor, in which a band of six men dressed in police uniforms machine-gunned and hacked to death with knives 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians. "The killing went on for 45 minutes, until the floors streamed with blood. The dead included a five-year-old British child and four Japanese couples on their honeymoons." Altogether 71 people were killed. The attack stunned Egyptian society, devastated the tourist industry for a number of years, and consequently sapped a large segment of popular support for violent Islamism in Egypt.

The revulsion of Egyptians and rejection of jihadi terror was so complete, the attack's supporters backpedaled. The day after the attack, Rifai Taha claimed the attackers intended only to take the tourists hostage, despite the evidence of the systematic nature of the slaughter. Others denied Islamist involvement completely. Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman blamed Israelis for the killings, and Zawahiri maintaining the Egyptian police had done it. [Wright, "Looming Towers", (2006), p.257-8]

When Rifai Taha signed the al-Qaeda fatwa "International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders" to kill Crusaders and Jews on behalf of the Islamic Group, he was "forced to withdraw his name" from the fatwa, lamely explaining to fellow members ... than he had "only been asked over the telephone to join in a statement of support for the Iraqi people." [Zayyat, Nontassir, "The Road to al-Qaeda: the story of bin Laden's right-hand Man," Pluto Press, (2004), p.89]


Major attacks by Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya:
*17 November 1997 – Luxor massacre at Deir el-Bahri, Luxor, Egypt. 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians were killed.
*28 April 1996 – Europa Hotel shooting, Cairo. 18 Greek tourists were killed, allegedly mistaken to be Jews. [ The Washington Post, Friday, April 19, 1996]
*19 November 1995 – Car bomb attack on the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. 16 people were killed.
*20 october 1995 – Car bomb attack on police station in Rijeka, Croatia
*26 June 1995 – attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
*8 June 1992 – assassination of Farag Foda.

It was also responsible for a spate of tourist shootings (trains and cruise ships sprayed with bullets) in middle and upper Egypt during the early 1990s. As a result of those attacks, cruise ships ceased sailing between Cairo and Luxor for several years, although they have long since resumed.

Renouncing terror

After spending more than two decades in prison and after intense debates and discussions with Al-Azhar scholars, most of the leaders of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya have written several books renouncing their ideology of violence and some of them went as far as calling ex-Egyptian president Sadat, whom they assassinated, a martyr.

Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya renounced bloodshed in 2003, [ [ Egypt frees 900 Islamist militants] ] and in September 2003 Egypt freed more than 1,000 members, citing what Interior Minister Habib el-Adli called the group's stated "commitment to rejecting violence." [ Al-Zawahiri: Egyptian militant group joins al Qaeda] , "CNN", 5 August 2006]

Harsh repressive measures by the Egyptian government and the unpopularity of the killing of foreign tourists have reduced the group's profile in recent years but the movement retains popular support among Egyptian Islamists who disapprove of the secular nature of Egypt's society and peace treaty with Israel.

In April 2006 the Egyptian government released approximately 1200 members, including a founder, Najeh Ibrahim, from prison. [ Middle East Media Research Institute] [ News from Al-Arabiya]

Reportedly, there have been "only two instances where members showed signs of returning to their former violent ways, and in both cases they were betrayed by informers in their own group." [lawyer Montasser al-Zayyat in [ The Rebellion Within, An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism. by Lawrence Wright, June 2, 2008] ]

Disputed 2006 alliance with al-Qaeda

Deputy leader of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri announced a new alliance with Al Gama'a al-Islamiyya, in a video released on the internet on 5 August 2006c] . Zawahiri said "We bring good tidings to the Muslim nation about a big faction of the knights of the Gama'a Islamiyya uniting with Al-Qaeda," and the move aimed to help "rally the Muslim nation's capabilities in a unified rank in the face of the most severe crusader campaign against Islam in its history." A Gama'a leader, Muhammad al-Hukaymah, appeared in the video and confirmed the unity move [ [ Lebanon Daily Star] about the Zawahiri/Hukaymah video] . However, Hukaymah also said that some Gama'a members had "backslid" from the violent course he was keeping to, and some Gama'a representatives also denied that they were joining forces with the international al-Qaeda network [ [ The Media Line - Egyptian Group Denies Al-Qa’ida Ties] ] . Sheikh Abdel Akher Hammad, a former Gama'a leader, told al-Jazeera: "If [some] brothers ... have joined, then this is their personal view and I don't think that most Gama'a Islamiyya members share that same opinion" [ [ Al Jazeera - Egyptian group denies al-Qaeda tie-up] ] .


External links

* [ Al-Ghuroba] (Followers of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama'ah)
* [ Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya] (Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies)
* [ Article about Islamist resistance in Egypt]
* [ Article in the "Economist" about more recent developments]
* [ al-Gama'a al Islam] home page
* [ Egypt's Jihad Group leader wants end to violence]
* [,,2135869,00.html Violence won't work: how author of 'jihadists' bible' stirred up a storm]
* [ The Rebellion Within] a New Yorker article about terrorists renouncing violence, with significant attention paid to the Islamic Group]

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