Jamaa al-Islamiya, the Muslim fundamentalist group that spawned Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the deadliest arm of Osama bin Laden‘s al Qaeda movement, is set to resume terror operations after more than a year’s pause, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report from Cairo.
Early in 2003, Egypt’s security czar, intelligence minister General Omar Suleiman, persuaded the violent group to lay down arms and go into mainstream politics. He offered Jamaa prisoners in Egyptian jails their freedom and a pardon for signing a pledge to renounce terrorism.
Some 3,000 members have gained their freedom since. Several hundred more are still behind bars, either for refusing to sign the pledge or because their turn has not yet come for release.
The most important outcome of the deal General Suleiman negotiated was the halt in Jamaa’s recruitment of fighters to Egypt’s Islamic Jihad and thence to al Qaeda. It was therefore praised highly by US President George W. Bush as the model for taming all terrorist and violent groups around the Arab world.
On more than one occasion since, the Bush administration has urged the transformation of Lebanon’s Hizballah into a political party. After resuming his revolt against the US and Iraqi government, radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr in Najef was offered an amnesty for coming out of the besieged Imam Ali mosque, disbanding his Mehdi Army militia and joining Iraq’s fledgling political process. This formula for peace was put forward by American commanders. Saudi rulers tried the Egyptian gambit too, pleading with the violent men plaguing the kingdom for al Qaeda to turn their backs on terrorism and embrace politics.
The only place the recipe caught on for a while was Egypt – nowhere else in the Middle East.
And now, in Egypt too, the deal with Jamaa al-Islamiya is falling apart.
Towards the end of July, Colonel Aboud al-Zomor, the Egyptian military intelligence officer who orchestrated the 1981 assassination plot against President Anwar Sadat, joined by his son Tarek al Zomor, sent a message from their prison cells to fellow Jamaa members declaring the agreement with Suleiman null and void.
The Zomers also announced that Jamaa al-Islamiya prisoners no longer recognized the movement’s leader, Karam Zohdi, who signed the accord with the Egyptian authorities after expressing deep sorrow for taking part in the Sadat assassination and calling him a martyr.
The Zomor statement, which rejected the religious tenets underlying the agreement, declared Jamaa al-Islamiya inmates had decided to forego their right to freedom and vowed to resume their struggle against the Mubarak regime
Our sources report that Tarek al-Zomer was about to be released when he refused to sign the anti-terrorism pledge and chose to remain in his cell.
Clearly, the real decision-making authority in terrorist movements like Jamaa al-Islamiya – as in the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad – rests with their imprisoned leaders. The men behind bars set the groups’ policies, are held in greatest esteem and their orders are obeyed by the gunmen on the outside.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s terror experts expect the orders issued by the Zomers to spark a spate of violence in Egypt before long.
In another ominous development, the pan-Arab, pro-Marxist Nasserite movement in Egypt has buried a decades-old hatchet and come to an historic understanding to cooperate with the still-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood long targeted the movement’s father, the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser, for assassination. He persecuted them relentlessly in the 1960s, throwing thousands of zealots in jail and executing several of its leaders. The Muslim Brotherhood vowed to spurn the Nasserites until they apologized for Nasser’s misdeeds against their members. However, the guide-general, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, elected in January 2004, dropped the demand and announced the organization had nothing against cooperating with a secular group. Representatives of the two groups recently met and agreed to draft a joint manifesto making common cause for the goal of achieving political reform in Egypt and providing an alternative to the Hosny Mubarak’s rule and that of his putative successor, his son Jamal.