Date Mon 8 Jul 2002 081210 0400 Edt To

Date: Mon, 8 Jul 2002 08:12:10 -0400 (EDT)

To: Gulf2000

More on the split among radical Islamists

The Islamic Group leadership in prison recently issued a formal apology

for its past acts of terrorism against the Egyptian people, including the

assassination of Sadat, and condemned the September 11 attacks as contrary

to Islam in a long interview in the government-owned magazine, “The

Illustrated” (al-Musawwar). They denounced Bin Ladin and al-Qaida.

What appears to have happened is that the Islamic Group has undergone a

decisive schism. The six current leaders in Egypt, all in Tura

Penitentiary, direct the organization from behind prison walls. This

leadership has renounced terrorism as un-Islamic. AP reported on June 25

that Karam Zohdi, the group’s leader said, “We strongly condemn the Sept

11 attacks because we understand that these attacks damage Islam and

Muslims,” and AP added, “Besides apologizing to the Egyptian people

they even suggested paying some kind of compensation to the

families of those killed in their attacks.” The six now speak of the

“blind Sheik,” Omar Abdel Rahman (in prison in the US for his role in the

1993 events) as “the former leader of the Islamic Group.” They appear to

consider Hamdi Abdel Rahman (not in prison) their chief legal guide for

Islamic law. The six released a 4-volume book, *Correction of

Misconceptions*, supporting their new thinking, last winter, but it is not

yet in any U.S. research library. I think that the literature being

produced by the new non-violent Islamic Group ought to be translated into

English and other European languages, in hopes it would have a bigger

impact among expatriate militants, many of whom do not have good Arabic.

It has been suggested by some observers that the six members of the

organization’s Consultative Council in Tura may have been subjected to

severe psychological pressure by the Egyptian security apparatus, helping

to account for their about face. This charge may be true, but it is also

the case that discussions of giving up terrorism occurred among members of

the Islamic Groups outside prison in Egypt from the early 1990s, so one

cannot rule out an internal dynamic. It is widely held that the late 1997

shooting of tourists at Luxor not only turned most of the Egyptian public

decisively against the terrorist groups, but also provoked self-doubt and

rethinking within their ranks. Likewise, the embassy bombings in East

Africa the same year are thought to have been met with dismay even in

Islamist circles (most of the wounded and killed were Africans). It has

also been suggested that these statements are aimed at securing their

release from prison, and that of the estimated 12,000 Islamists still

being held in Egypt. A large release of thousands had been expected last

October, but appears to have been postponed or cancelled by the events of

September 11.

Expatriate members of the Islamic Group often still follow Sheikh Omar

Abdel Rahman and remain militant, resembling their sibling organization

al-Jihad al-Islami and, it is charged, maintaining close links to


Muhammad al-Shafi`i and `Abdah Zina reported in al-Sharq al-Awsat for July

6 on an interview conducted with Muhammad al-Islambouli, the brother of

Sadat’s assassin. He is believed to reside in Iran, and is wanted in

Egypt. Al-Islambouli dismissed the Consultative Council in Tura as

unrepresentative and insisted that Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman is still the

leader of the Islamic Group. He rejected their apology and insisted that

his brother had acted righteously.

It is my vague impression that the nonviolent Tura leadership now

represents the majority of Egyptian members of the Islamic Group, who

probably number in the tens of thousands. One wonders whether they might

not ultimately be absorbed by the more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood,

which has long renounced violence and sought change through parliamentary

means. There has recently been a flurry of arrests, trials and retrials

aimed at militant Islamic Group members inside the country. One of the

founders, Islah Hashem, was arrested in Sohag, Upper Egypt (the Islamic

Group is heavily Upper Egyptian in membership).

It is worrisome, however, that Sheikh Abdel Rahman appears to retain a

great deal of prestige among radical Islamists outside Egypt.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat notes that al-Islambouli is one of 14 Islamists on

Egypt’s most-wanted list, including Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Since so many Egyptian Islamists are expatriates, it would be very

interesting to know how this schism is playing out among the ones in Saudi

Arabia, the UAE, and Pakistan.

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