Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 19:53 pm (KSA) 16:53 pm (GMT)

Egypt's Jihad Group leader wants end to violence

Sayed Imam in his Egyptian jail cell (File)
Sayed Imam in his Egyptian jail cell (File)

The leader of an Islamic fundamentalist group in Egypt that was responsible for a string of terror attacks in the1980s and 1990s has publicly severed his ties with al-Qaeda and denounced its leaders.

Sayed Imam, the founder and first emir of Egypt's Jihad Group, said al-Qaeda is to blame for the invasion of Afghanistan, which came as a direct reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Speaking to the London-based daily Al-Hayat from his high-security prison cell in Cairo, Imam lashed out at al-Qaeda No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, his student and long-time friend who once led the group.

"I didn't know him for what he really is until the assassination of President Anwar Al-Sadat," said Imam, whose relationship with Zawahiri goes back some 30 years. "He was behind the arrest of many of his friends and testified against them in the investigations," he said.

The Jihad Group was partly responsible for killing former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

When they re-established the Jihad Group in Afghanistan, Zawahiri brought youth from Egypt and asked Imam to be their spiritual guide.

"I agreed, but bit by bit their problems grew with their numbers, and Zawahiri kept washing his hands of them and involving me in all the problems. That is why Egyptian authorities considered me the Emir while my job was only spiritual guidance."

Imam severed ties with Al-Zawahiri and the whole group in 1992 after they insisted on carrying out terror attacks in Egypt.

"He and his followers betrayed Mullah Omar and dragged the U.S. to Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime."

Imam said that the Egyptians are the actual founders of Al-Qaeda and that they tried to tone down bin Laden's extremes.

"Al-Qaeda has no ideology apart from bin Laden's personal whims. Whoever objects gets kicked out. This approach is what led to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Imam added that the Jihad decided to dismiss Al-Zawahiri when he joined the International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders in 1998: "This was an explicit pact between him and bin Laden."

Review of position

The Jihad Group is publishing this "review of its positions" in two Arabic language newspapers, renouncing violent activities and calling for ceasing all armed operations in Egypt and in other Arab or Muslim countries.

Imam was the first Emir (leader) of Jihad in the 1970s, as well as the first leader of an armed cell who decided to fight fellow Muslims. He authored "The Principle Book for Preparations," a reference book that al-Qaeda uses to justify its operations and win new recruits on religious grounds.

The Jihad Group is responsible for a bloody campaign against the authoritarian regime of President Hosni Mubarak in the1980s and 1990s that drew in hundreds of young recruits and cost dozens of lives.

For decades, Imam's writings have also formed the backbone for the philosophical arguments touted by several other armed groups to validate their attacks.

But in the new review, he said his group "erred enormously from an Islamic point of view" by allowing "killing based on nationality, color of skin and hair or based on religious doctrine."

"Those are actually the methods of secular revolutionaries and not the methods of Islam. There's no such a thing as 'the goal justifies the means' in Islam, even when the goals are noble are legitimate. Muslims worship God by using legitimate methods too," he wrote.

Imam is now contending that those who target innocent people are working outside the parameters of Sharia, or Islamic law.

"They place their own desires and will before that of Allah's," he wrote in this new treatise.

Imam said he was prompted to write the review after noticing persistent "violations" by members of the Jihad Group in its decades-long fight with authorities -- a fight that has included excessive bloodshed, random killings and targeting of civilians.

The al-Jihad Group has traditionally been the most militant of the Islamic groups, refusing for the past 10 years to follow in the foot-steps of al-Gamaa al-Islamia, another militant group that renounced violence years ago.

This change has dealt a severe blow to al-Qaeda, whose deputy chief, Zawahri, headed the al-Jihad group in Afghanistan after his teacher, Imam, was arrested in Egypt.

Al-Zawahri is widely expected to come out strongly against the plan known as "the nonviolent initiative."

The documents that are being serialized simultaneously in a local newspaper and a Kuwait newspaper are also important because they are expected to rekindle a debate in the Muslim world that is likely to include academic scholars, religious scholars and political activists regarding the methods employed by some of the militant groups and the true meaning of armed Jihad in Islam.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).

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