CAIRO, Egypt (AP) – Egypt’s once largest militant group has appealed to the al-Qaeda terror network to renounce its violent ideology and rally behind the Egyptian Islamic militants’ conversion to a peaceful struggle.
According to a statement posted on the Egyptian group’s Web Site, Nageh Ibrahim, a leader and one of the founders of the al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya appealed to al-Qaeda fighters everywhere to back his group’s peaceful initiative from 10 years ago.
“I’m … appealing to … brothers in al-Qaeda organization everywhere,” Ibrahim’s statement said. “I’m appealing to you to stop and review your stances, to put your effort, the Jihad (holy war) … in the right place and time, away from infighting among Muslims … away from killing civilians, both Muslims and non Muslims.”
“My beloved brothers in al-Qaeda: Islamic movements revising ideas and views in religion and life is not a sign of weakness but a proof of strength and vitality,” he added.
The initiative of Ibrahim’s group was adopted recently also by al-Jihad, or Holy War group, an extremist network that was once headed by Ayman Al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden’s lieutenant. Ibrahim was released late 2005 after spending 25 years in an Egyptian prison.
Al-Jihad and the al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya group were both accused of participating in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat. Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian physician, jailed for his involvement in the murder, was released in 1984. He left Egypt and helped form al-Qaeda with bin Laden in the late 1990s.
Last year, Al-Zawahri claimed in a videotape statement that al-Gamaa al-Islamiya had joined al-Qaeda, the first time al-Qaeda announced a branch in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation. But the Egyptian group promptly denied it. Neither al-Jihad or al-Gamaa al-Islamiya have been involved in attacks in Egypt since the 1990s.
About 135 lesser al-Jihad members who spent over a decade in Egyptian prisons have been released over the past two weeks, after signing statements renouncing violence.
Despite long opposing a reconsideration of radical views, al-Jihad’s top ideologue, Sayed Imam Abdul-Aziz el-Sherif started a review of al-Jihad’s ideology and concluded it should unequivocally renounce violence.
El-Sherif, 57, left Egypt in 1986 to go to Afghanistan and wound up in Yemen where he was arrested in 2001 and handed back in 2004 to Egypt to serve a life sentence.
Egypt has never disclosed the number of militants it holds in prison. Hundreds, if not thousands, of al-Jihad and al-Gamaa al-Islamiya members are still believed to be jailed here, along with smaller groups’ militants.