ALTERNATE NAME: Islamic Group
LEADER: Omar Abdel Rahman
YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1977
ESTIMATED SIZE: Less than five hundred members
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Egypt and Afghanistan
Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya is an extremist Islamic group operating in Egypt. The group's purpose is to overthrow the government of Egypt and replace it with an Islamic state. The group has been operating since 1970. From 1970–1990, the group's acts of violence were directed at targets considered to be threats to Muslims, including the Egyptian government. During the 1990s, the group began to target tourists in Egypt, with their largest attack involving the death of fifty-eight tourists in Luxor.
Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya is also known as Jamaa Islamiyya, Jamaat al Islamiya, Gamaat Islamiya, Islamic Group, IG, and al-Gama'at.
Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya has been operating in Egypt since 1970. It originated as a set of separate cells linked through contact by the leaders of each cell. Most of the cells formed when members of the Muslim Brotherhood were released from prison by Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a nonviolent group that has been operating in Egypt since 1928. By the end of the 1940s, the Muslim Brotherhood was thought to have more than a million members. This made it a major political force in Egypt. While the group as a whole kept their nonviolent stance, some members carried out acts of terrorism and violence. In 1954, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood was accused of an assassination attempt on President Gamal Abd al-Nasser. In response to concerns about the intentions of the group, thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested and held in prisons and concentration camps, including being tortured. This led some members of the group to argue that the government of Egypt was anti-Muslim, with violent action needed to overthrow the government. In 1970, Anwar al-Sadat became the president of Egypt and began releasing former members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of the former members of the Muslim Brotherhood were now convinced that a violent response was needed. These members formed cells in various parts of southern Egypt, with the organization named Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya.
The purpose of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya is to overthrow the government of Egypt and install an Islamic State. Prior to the 1990s, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya's attacks were focused on groups within Egypt perceived to be opponents of Islam, especially members of the Egyptian government. These perceived opponents included Egyptian government officials, Egyptian security forces, and Coptic Christians. Attacks were carried out mainly in the south of Egypt, where Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya had a stronger hold.
In the 1990s, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya began targeting tourists and foreigners in Egypt, as well as continuing to engage in violent acts against government targets.
In 1995, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In November 1995, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan, which killed 16 people. On April 28, 1996, a shooting at the Europa Hotel in Cairo killed eighteen people.
In 1997, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya issued a ceasefire. A senior member of the group, Rifa'i Taha Musa, did not agree with the ceasefire and led a split from the group. Musa became leader of a new faction of the group wanting to continue violent action. Mustafa Hamza led the other faction of the group and continued to support the ceasefire.
It was the faction of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya led by Musa that was suspected of conducting an attack on the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor. In this attack, six men opened fire on tourists as they exited a tour bus. The attack caused the death of fifty-eight tourists and four Egyptians. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for the attack and stated that they intended to take hostages for the purpose of forcing the release of their spiritual leader, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, from prison in the United States.
The faction of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya led by Musa is also suspected of having links with Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, with bin Laden suspected of financing the attacks, and a senior member of al-Qaeda, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, suspected of helping to organize the attacks.
In March 1999, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya issued another ceasefire, but this was later broken in June 2000. Then, in March 2002, the group stated that the use of violence was misguided and declared that they would not act in violence.
In the next year, the Egyptian government began to release hundreds of members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya from prison.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
The actions of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya show two differing philosophies and goals. The first is a philosophy based on attacking the Egyptian government and other individuals considered enemies of Islam. The second is based on attacking tourists. This second philosophy indirectly attacks the Egyptian government because of the negative impact on the tourist industry and because of the potential backlash on the people of Egypt.
The first philosophy or goal was the focus of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya in the years from its original formation in 1970 until 1990. The tactics in these years were to act violently directly against individuals and groups considered to be enemies of Islam, including the Egyptian government. This led to a range of attacks on security forces, government officials, and Coptic Christians. This also included a number of attacks on Egyptian embassies. These actions continued in the 1990s and included an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Egyptian Information Minister Safw Cairo in April 1993 and an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for both attempted assassinations. In another incident, a suicide bomber targeted the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan. The incident killed sixteen and injured dozens more. Both Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the International Justice Group claimed responsibility for the attack. This led to speculation that Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya was operating as part of a network of Islamic extremist groups.
The second philosophy based on attacking tourists began in the early 1990s and became increasingly prominent throughout the decade. The first of these types of attacks occurred on February 4, 1993, when a bomb was thrown at a tour bus containing South Korean visitors. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for the attack. On February 19, 1994, two tourists and two Egyptians were wounded when members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya fired on a passenger train. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for a bomb explosion on a train several days later. The explosion injured six foreign tourists and five Egyptians. In March 1994, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for shooting at a Nile cruise ship, an incident that injured one tourist. In September 1994, three people were killed and two injured when a member of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya opened fire in a tourist area in the town of Hurghada, Egypt. Another incident involving firing on a train occurred in November 1995, with Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claiming responsibility for the attack. On April 28, 1996, four members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya opened fire on Greek tourists outside the Europa Hotel in Cairo. The incident killed eighteen Greek tourists and injured fourteen more.
The largest terrorist attack took place at Luxor in Egypt, when members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya opened fire on tourists visiting the Hatshepsut Temple. The incident killed fifty-eight tourists and four Egyptians. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for the attack.
These attacks in the 1990s show a significant change in the group's tactics, with the specific focus on attacking tourists. This is considered a way for the group to attack the Egyptian government indirectly, by endangering the tourism industry, an important source of income for Egypt. At the same time, concern about a decline in the tourist industry may cause people to question the Egyptian government and possibly lose faith in the government. In turn, this may assist Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya by undermining the government and gaining support for the installation of an Islamic state.
While the two different tactics serve the same overall purpose, sources suggest that the change represents a split within Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. There are two likely scenarios. The first scenario is that some members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya began operating independently of the main group in the 1990s, with the spate of attacks on tourists in the early 1990s a result of actions carried out by these renegade members. The second scenario is that Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya agreed to this strategy as a whole, but that some members of the group questioned the violence throughout the 1990s. In either case, it is known that the group issued a ceasefire in 1997 and that this caused a split. Several months later, the Luxor shootings occurred. It has since been found that the Luxor shootings were organized with assistance from al-Qaeda, including funding from Osama bin Laden. This shows a link between Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and al-Qaeda; the link is between the split factions of the group led by Musa.
OMAR ABDEL RAHMAN
Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the Blind Sheik, is the spiritual leader of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. Rahman was born in Egypt and lost his eyesight during childhood as a result of diabetes. Rahman studied Islam at the university and later became a Muslim cleric. He developed close links with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (holy war) and Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and became the leader of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya during the 1980s.
Omar Abdel Rahman was accused by American authorities of being involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He was not charged, but the accusation caused the FBI to begin investigating. In 1995, he was found guilty of conspiring to bomb various New York City landmarks, including the United Nations building, FBI offices, and several bridges and tunnels. In October 1995, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Although he is incarcerated in the United States, Rahman is still considered Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya's spiritual leader.
- The Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya group began to form as former members of the Muslim Brotherhood were released from prison.
- Between 1970 and 1990:
- Members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya carried out various attacks against groups in Egypt considered opponents to Islam.
- Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya changed its tactics and began targeting tourists and foreigners in Egypt; trains, cruise ships, buses, and tourist areas were the targets of a number of attacks.
- Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
- Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan that killed sixteen people.
- Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya claimed responsibility for a shooting at the Europe Hotel in Cairo that killed eighteen people.
- Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya issued a ceasefire, causing a split in the group. Rifa'i Taha Musa rejected the ceasefire and became the leader of a faction dedicated to continuing violent action.
- Six members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya opened fire on tourists in Luxor, killing fifty-eight people.
- Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya stated that the use of violence was misguided and declared that they would no longer act in violence.
While Human Rights Watch does not support the terrorist actions of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, it does have concerns that individuals suspected of being members of the group are not having their human rights upheld. Human Rights Watch describes how the Egyptian government introduced laws in the 1990s, allowing security forces greater powers of arrest. These laws included terms that individuals could be arrested and held without charge on the basis that they were considered a threat to public order and national security. In addition, the new laws allowed civilians to be referred to a military court. Human Rights Watch describes the arrests of hundreds of individuals who were suspected of being either members or supporters of groups, including Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, and the trials of some of these individuals by military courts. Human Rights Watch suggests that the arrests and trials are being carried out to repress individuals who are attempting only to exercise basic freedom of expression and freedom of association. Overall, the view of Human Rights Watch contends that the Egyptian government is unfairly attempting to repress Muslim groups from exercising their basic freedoms.
A report by the BBC raised questions about the ability of the Egyptian government to ensure the safety of tourists within Egypt. This report was completed following the Luxor shootings and noted that the Egyptian authorities had played down terrorist attacks on tourists. The report went on to say that the attack undermined the government's claim that terrorism within Egypt has been defeated. The article showed that the actions of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya at Luxor had a negative impact on tourism and on the people of Egypt.
Since the Luxor attacks and a series of arrests and trials of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya members, there has been a major decline in the actions of the group. There has also been a major decline in the number of members of the group.
In March 2002, the group reinstated a ceasefire, declaring that they would not act in violence. This was followed by the release of hundreds of members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya from prison. This action by the Egyptian government suggests that Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya no longer poses a major threat in Egypt. However, it is still suspected that there are some extremist members intent on continuing their goal of installing an Islamic state in Egypt. There are also concerns that some members of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya have formed alliances with al-Qaeda, with this move altering their objectives and making them part of a larger terrorist cause.
Massacre in Luxor
Friends and relatives of tourists killed in a massacre at a tourist attraction have visited Egypt to find out more about the murders.
A total of 58 holidaymakers and four Egyptians were gunned down on the steps of the temple of Hatshepshut in Luxor five years ago.
Three generations of a family from Ripponden, near Halifax—five-year-old Shaunnah Turner, her air hostess mother Karina, 24, and grandmother Joan Turner—lost their lives.
The militants responsible for the massacre were leading members of Egypt's largest Islamist group, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, and had trained at Osama bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.
Also killed were three other Britons, 36 Swiss tourists, and four Japanese honeymoon couples.
Jean Dawson and John Laycock, relatives of the Turner family, were accompanied on their trip to Egypt by a team from the BBC's Correspondent programme.
Mrs. Dawson said: "I've met some very lovely Egyptian people. Just ordinary people that are very kind, very warm. It seems a world away from the terrorists that did the massacre."
The families have been told a memorial to the victims will be constructed in Luxor.
Source: BBC News, 2002
Gama'a al-Islamiyya (IG) a.k.a. Islamic Group, al-Gama'at
The IG, Egypt's largest militant group, has been active since the late 1970s, and is a loosely organized network. It has an external wing with supporters in several countries. The group's issuance of a cease-fire in 1997 led to a split into two factions: one, led by Mustafa Hamza, supported the cease-fire; the other, led by Rifa'i Taha Musa, called for a return to armed operations. The IG issued another ceasefire in March 1999, but its spiritual leader, Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman, sentenced to life in prison in January 1996 for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and incarcerated in the United States, rescinded his support for the cease-fire in June 2000. IG has not conducted an attack inside Egypt since the Luxor attack in 1997, which killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians and wounded dozens more. In February 1998, a senior member signed Usama Bin Ladin's fatwa calling for attacks against the United States.
In early 2001, Taha Musa published a book in which he attempted to justify terrorist attacks that would cause mass casualties. Taha Musa disappeared several months thereafter, and there is no information as to his current whereabouts. In March 2002, members of the group's historic leadership in Egypt declared use of violence misguided and renounced its future use, prompting denunciations by much of the leadership abroad. The Egyptian Government continues to release IG members from prison, including approximately 900 in 2003; likewise, most of the 700 persons released in 2004 at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan were IG members.
For IG members still dedicated to violent jihad, their primary goal is to overthrow the Egyptian Government and replace it with an Islamic state. Disaffected IG members, such as those inspired by Taha Musa or Abd al-Rahman, may be interested in carrying out attacks against US interests.
IG conducted armed attacks against Egyptian security and other Government officials, Coptic Christians, and Egyptian opponents of Islamic extremism before the ceasefire. After the 1997 cease-fire, the faction led by Taha Musa launched attacks on tourists in Egypt, most notably the attack in November 1997 at Luxor. IG also claimed responsibility for the attempt in June 1995 to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Unknown. At its peak IG probably commanded several thousand hard-core members and a like number of sympathizers. The 1999 cease-fire, security crackdowns following the attack in Luxor in 1997 and, more recently, security efforts following September 11 probably have resulted in a substantial decrease in the group's numbers.
LOCATION/AREA OF OPERATION
Operates mainly in the al-Minya, Asyut, Qina, and Sohaj Governorates of southern Egypt. Also appears to have support in Cairo, Alexandria, and other urban locations, particularly among unemployed graduates and students. Has a worldwide presence, including in the United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Yemen, and various locations in Europe.
Unknown. There is some evidence that Usama bin Ladin and Afghan militant groups support the organization. IG also may obtain some funding through various Islamic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.
Smith, Barbara. "Heaven or Hell?: Terrorism Hurts Revenue from Tourism." The Economist. no. 350 (1999): 14-15.
BBC News. "Egypt: The New Spectre of Terror." 〈http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/analysis/32048.stm〉 (accessed September 21, 2005).
Human Rights Watch. "Egypt: Human Rights Background." 〈http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/mena/egypt-bck-1001.htm〉 (accessed September 21, 2005).