CAIRO, Egypt, AP – An Egyptian militant group denied on Sunday that it had joined al-Qaeda, saying the majority of its members were sticking by a truce with the government declared almost a decade ago.
Ayman Al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, said in a videotape aired Saturday that al-Gamaa al-Islamiya had joined the terror network. It was the first time that al-Qaeda has announced a branch in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation.
“Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya is strong and solid and not affected at all by nonsense here or there,” Karam Zohdy, one of the group’s most senior leaders, said on Al-Jazeera news network.
“What Ayman al-Zawahri has said is sheer fabrication and lying,” Zohdy said.
Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, was once the largest Egyptian militant group. It waged a campaign of violence during the 1990s but was crushed in a government crackdown.
Al-Zawahri, who is Egyptian, said the groups were joining “in one front facing their enemies in the most imperious crusade carried out against Islam in all its history.”
In a statement posted on al-Gamaa al-Islamiya’s Web Site on Sunday, the group said it “flatly denies what Ayman al-Zawahri had said about it joining al-Qaeda.” The statement was signed by the group’s leaders who spent more than 20 years behind bars for their roles in assassinating President Anwar Sadat in 1981.
They were released after they promised to renounce violence and expressed regret for their bloody past. The group, which tried to overthrow the government, announced a cease-fire in 1997.