brutal massacre of 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians in
Luxor, Egypt, in November 1997 has brought the issue of Islamic
extremism in Egypt to the fore once again.
extremism in Egypt is predicated on a rejection of the West
and Egypt's Western-oriented regime.The movement's political
agenda is to topple the government of President Hosni Mubarak
and establish an Islamic theocracy. The most significant terror
organization in Egypt is the Gama'at al-Islamiyya or Islamic
Group (IG), responsible for the Luxor tragedy.
IG is an indigenous Egyptian Islamic extremist movement founded
in the late 1970s by a group of radical Islamic theologians,
led by Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and former army intelligence
officers and lawyers. Sheikh Rahman is currently serving a life
sentence in New York for his role in inciting his followers
to bomb the World Trade Center in February 1993. The original
core of former army officers and lawyers are all serving life
sentences in Egypt.
the group comprises a loosely organized underground of terror
cells. There is currently no known single operational leader
while Sheikh Rahman remains the group's spiritual leader.
to have several hundred armed operatives, several thousand members
and an additional several thousand sympathizers, the IG is centered
primarily in the poor provinces of upper, or southern, Egypt.
It also enjoys support, however, in Cairo, Alexandria, and other
urban areas, primarily among students and unemployed university
from participating in Egyptian elections, Islamic radicals took
control of trade unions and professional associations. They
established a network of charities, businesses, schools and
hospitals and gained adherents among Egypt's poor and disadvantaged.
extremists have sought to destabilize Egypt by destroying its
tourism industry, the mainstay of Egypt's economy. Before the
November massacre, with some 4.2 million visitors, the tourism
industry was set to generate in 1997 nearly $4 billion in revenue
for Egypt, making tourism the country's most important source
of foreign exchange.
gained notoriety for its assassination of Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat in October 1981. Over the years, it has engaged
in attacks against Egyptian security and government officials,
Coptic Christians, secular intellectuals and, since 1992, foreign
tourists in Egypt. Its attacks include the 1992 assassination
of secularist commentator Farag Foda, the 1994 assassination
attempt against Nobel literature laureate Naguib Mahfouz, the
June 1995 assassination attempt against President Mubarak and
the April 1996 shooting deaths of 18 Greek tourists outside
a Cairo hotel.
the two brothers convicted and sentenced to death for the September
1997 attack on a bus outside Cairo's Egyptian museum in which
nine German tourists and their Egyptian driver were killed denied
affiliation with the IG, they did admit sympathies with IG ideology.
IG issued a statement in October 1997 hailing the two men and
warning tourists not to come to Egypt.
a harsh government crackdown and the imprisonment and exile
of its senior leaders, IG remains Egypt's most active extremist
organization. Prior to the Luxor attack, Cairo had declared
a victory in its war against Islamic radicals. The Luxor attack
was the group's deadliest and came on the heels of repeated
appeals by the six imprisoned founders of IG, starting in July
1997, for an end to the violence. Since 1992, nearly 1,200 people,
including 92 foreigners, have been killed in Islamic extremist
violence, including many attacks claimed by the Gama'a.
have been arrested and imprisoned by the government while others
are living in exile in Europe and Afghanistan. Exiled leaders
are suspected of providing support for terrorist activities
within Egypt and statements in the name of the IG have been
issued from outside Egypt. In April 1996, for example, a senior
IG leader, speaking from Afghanistan, publicly threatened to
kidnap U.S. citizens in retaliation for the life imprisonment
sentence of Sheikh Rahman, handed down in January 1996. An IG
leaflet left at the Luxor massacre site claimed that the attack
was carried out as a gesture to Mustafa Hamza, an exiled IG
leader suspected of having masterminded the assassination attempt
on President Mubarak and believed to be in Pakistan.
recently, exiled leaders have expressed sharp differences over
the wisdom of continued violence and the best course for the
terrorist group. In December 1997, one IG faction issued a statement
saying that it had decided "to stop targeting either the
tourism industry or foreign tourists" while another faction
issued a statement denying the vow. Apparently the statement
vowing to end such attacks was issued by Yasser el-Serri, an
Islamic radical leader in London while the denial issued the
next day emanated from Refaei Ahmed Taha, a senior IG leader
living in Afghanistan. Both leaders are on the run from death
sentences and appeared on a list that Cairo issued shortly after
the Luxor attack of 14 fugitive militants Egypt says mastermind
and finance attacks from abroad.
Mubarak recently accused Britain and other states of providing
safe haven to Islamic militants. Yasser al-Serri, for example,
who faces a death sentence in Egypt for the 1993 attempted murder
of then Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Sedki, has lived in Britain
since 1994. According to press reports, he is seeking political
asylum in Britain. Although London denies protecting terrorists,
British Home Secretary Jack Straw admitted in November that
there was a problem with people using Britain as a base for
financing and supporting terrorism abroad. He pointed to the
fact that Britain's anti-terrorism laws do not consider it an
offense to plot an attack abroad from British soil. Mr. Straw
has pledged to review the law.
1997, the U.S. State Department designated the Islamic Group
as one of 30 foreign terrorist organizations who are banned
from fund-raising in the U.S. and whose members and representatives
are ineligible for visas to enter the U.S. and are subject to
exclusion. It is now a Federal crime to provide funds, weapons
or other types of material support to the IG.
Group prospects for the future remain unclear. On the one hand,
the IG is currently experiencing a popular backlash from the
Egyptian public. The severe blow dealt to the tourism industry
as a result of the Luxor massacre has angered the Egyptian people
who are the ones suffering from the decline in tourist revenues.
On the other hand, the Luxor attack represents a more brazen
approach on the part of IG militants who contradicted calls
for a cease-fire from senior leaders of the movement. This,
analysts have speculated, may portend the perpetuation of more
independent, splintered and violent Islamic Group cells.