Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Leaders within the Islamist trend have denied that there has been any break in the ceasefires established over the past 10 years between many Islamist and jihadist groups and the governments of the Arab countries that they reside in, particularly in light of the recent sectarian terrorist attacks seen in Egypt. The chief theorist of the Egyptian al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah (Egyptian Islamic Group or EIG), Dr. Najih Ibrahim, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Al Qaeda’s “internet generation” who draw on jihadist ideology via websites affiliated to the Al Qaeda organization are more dangerous than the previous generation of jihadists who are affiliated to Islamist groups and armed movements. He stressed that while the previous generation of jihadists could be controlled and guided, the new generation who draw on jihadist ideology from the internet cannot be controlled or guided in the same way.
Analysts believe that there is a new generation of Islamist militants rising up in a number of Arab countries, not under the authority or following the leadership of historic and known Islamist groups. It was these Islamist groups that previously established ceasefires with the governments of the states that they are present in, with this phenomenon first being seen in Egypt at the end of the 1990s, and this was followed by similar occurrences in a number of other countries, including Libya, Mauritania, and others.
Dr. Najih Ibrahim, who lives in the city of Alexandria, denied that members of any Islamist group had contravened this cessation of violence [with the government], whether this is in Egypt, the Arab Maghreb, or elsewhere. He also stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the recent period has revealed the existence of “scattered individuals who do not take their [religious] culture from Sheikhs or known [Islamist] groups or mosques, but rather from the internet.” He said that it is in the nature of young people to gravitate towards extreme views and seek to solve problems quickly, adding that the atmosphere of sectarian, political, and economic tension in the region has resulted in such youth resorting to violence.
Dr. Najih Ibrahim, who is the chief theorist for the Egyptian Islamic Group which established a Non-violence Initiative with the Egyptian government in 1997 and formally renounced violence and terrorism in 2003, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the internet is now not only a source of extremist ideology, but also information on how to implement such ideology, providing information on how to manufacture a car bomb or turn normal chemicals into explosives, for example.”
He clarified that the problem at this current time is that it is extremely difficult to control this new generation of youth, or monitor their movement, or even convince them that they are following the wrong approach. Dr. Ibrahim also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “in the past, it was possible to change people’s path or approach by convincing them [of the right path], and as a result of this thousands of people changed their approach and beliefs, however today the situation is far more difficult…and a normal individual can, in a movement, become an extremist!”
All of this talk takes place against the backdrop of the New Year’s Eve Alexandria Church bombing which resulted in the death of 23 Egyptian Copts and the injury of more than 96 others. This terrorist attack resulted in a state of panic and tension throughout Egypt, with the Egyptian authorities immediately arresting dozens of suspects following this suicide attack. Security sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that a suspect who died in Egyptian custody following interrogation, Sayyed Bilal, who was allegedly a member of a Salafist movement in Alexandria, had been previously arrested for trying to travel to Iraq for the purposes of jihad against US troops there.
As for whether the Egyptian authorities had questioned or arrested any EIG members, Dr. Ibrahim told Asharq Al-Awsat that “nobody from the EIG has been arrested” adding that “EIG was the first group to develop anti-Al Qaeda ideology, and this can be seen in around 20 books [published by our members]…and it is well-known that EIG has renounced violence and stands against the killing of civilians and acknowledges that Christians have many rights.”
Dr. Najih Ibrahim also told Asharq Al-Awsat that just because many of those arrested by the Egyptian authorities were affiliated to a Salafist group, this does not necessarily mean that this group was responsible for the Alexandria Church attack, as “the basis of their belief calls for preventing violence.” He added that the Salafist trend is a mainstream trend [within Islam] “and this is not group…this is different from the EIG and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Security sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Sayyed Bilal was previously arrested by the Egyptian authorities for seeking to travel to Iraq for the purposes of jihad. The sources say that many people who were arrested following the Alexandria Church bombing had previously been accused of attempting to travel abroad for the purposes of Jihad. Egyptian and international activists have claimed that Sayyed Bilal died after being tortured at the hands of the Egyptian authorities, something that the security sources Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to denied.