NEW YORK – Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a U.S. government-designated foreign terrorist organization committed to homicide bombings and violent jihad activities against the state of Israel, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a press conference Thursday.
"Palestinian Islamic Jihad is one of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world," Ashcroft said in announcing an indictment against eight members of the group, including University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian.
The eight men were indicted on 50 counts of murder, wire and mail fraud and aiding terrorist organizations, among other things. The indictment identifies Al-Arian as the leader of the North American PIJ and treasurer of the worldwide terror network.
Islamic Jihad, also referred to as Islamic Holy War, is one of two main Islamic groups -- the other being Hamas -- that have mounted terror attacks in Israel. Hezbollah is another major terrorist network there.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad was founded in 1979-80 by Palestinian students in Egypt who took their inspiration from the Jihad movement there and were influenced by the Islamic revolution in Iran. During the 1980s, several other groups of Palestinian Islamic Jihad were formed, but the main faction that has survived is the group founded by Fathi Abd al-Aziz Shqaqi.
Shqaqi was born in January 1951 in the Gaza Strip, where he became active in the Muslim Brotherhood, but he left in 1974 because the group was too moderate. Shqaqi and other Islamic radicals were expelled from Egypt in 1981. He returned to the Gaza Strip to form the PIJ.
In 1988, Israeli authorities expelled Shqaqi to Lebanon, where it's believed he solidified contacts with Syria and Iran, as well as the terrorist group Hezbollah. The group also received training from Iranian Revolutionary Guards who supported Hezbollah.
The Jihad movements rejected the then-popular Arab belief that the Islamic world needed to be unified to liberate Palestine. The PIJ opposes secular Arab regimes and views them as corrupt and contaminated by Western secular values. The PIJ concentrates entirely on armed revolt, mainly in Israel, and doesn't bother with social or educational programs that characterize other Palestinian resistance groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah.
The 1993 Oslo Agreement between Israel and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat brought the PIJ into direct conflict with Arafat's Fatah movement. The PIJ initiated a series of attacks against Israeli targets in 1995 and 1996 in an effort to undermine the fragile peace, and the group began to cooperate with the radical Hamas movement.
Shqaqi was killed in October 1995 in Malta, allegedly by Israeli agents.
His successor, Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, was born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and was one of the first PIJ militants.
Shallah studied in London and headed the PIJ's office there, handling military, propaganda and information activity. Shallah finished a doctorate thesis in Islamic economics at the University of Durnham in the United Kingdom.
In 1990, Shallah taught Middle East courses at University of South Florida in Tampa, where he also became director of the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), a think tank on Muslim religious and political issues connected with the PIJ.
Al-Arian founded WISE and brought Shallah to USF for school-related activities.
Shallah moved to Damascus, Syria, at the beginning of 1996 and established himself there. In January 1997, Shallah, Hamas chiefs and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attended a rally in Damascus, where they vowed to resume "suicide operations" against Israel.
"We are going to retaliate with a language that the enemy can only understand," Shallah said. "The danger of the suicide operations are coming."
In September 2000, Shallah said: "We have nothing with which to repel killing and thuggery against us except the weapon of martyrdom. It is easy and costs us only our lives."
In October 2000, following an Islamic Jihad attack on an Israeli army post in Gaza, Shallah said: "These actions are the beginning and there will be other attacks against settlers and the Israeli army."
In June 2002, after President Bush publicly denounced homicide bombing in the Middle East, Shallah said: "If America is the one to divide the world into the 'camp of the good' and the 'camp of the evil,' and if it puts the Palestinian people and its Jihad fighters on the evil side, claiming that the martyrs are evil, then we say: 'Allah, make us all evil, [make us all] anger America and blow up in the heart of this cursed Zionist entity. ...
"America, the West, or any country in the world, has no moral right to decide whether a Palestinian has the right to blow himself up ... or not.
"We are the owners of our souls... no one has the right to object to us giving away our souls and turning them into human bombs for a cause we consider more important and more sacred than our lives."
The U.S. government has repeatedly called on Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to dismantle all terrorist networks, including Hamas and the PIJ. Both groups adopted the use of homicide bombers after contact with Hezbollah.
Here are a few of the terrorist incidents for which PIJ has been blamed and/or claimed responsibility:
April 6, 1994 -- PIJ operatives detonated a car bomb next to a public bus in Israel, killing nine people and injuring 50 others
Sept. 4, 1994 -- PIJ killed one and injured others in a drive-by shooting in Gaza
Nov. 11, 1994 -- PIJ homicide bombing in Gaza killed 3, injured 11
Jan. 25, 1995 -- PIJ killed 22 people in a double homicide bombing in Israel
June 5, 2002 -- PIJ killed 20, injured 50 in a homicide bombing in Israel
Among the 100 people allegedly killed by the terror group are two U.S. citizens: Alisa Flatow, 20, and Shoshana Ben-Yishai, 16.
The Syrians have sheltered the PIJ, which also has connections with the terrorist group, Hamas. There also may be connections between Shallah's homicide bombers and Baghdad.
PIJ has offices in Beirut, Damascus, Tehran and Khartoum, but its activity is focused in Lebanon, where there are several thousand Palestinian members. Countries such as Sudan and Iran have also supported the PIJ.
PIJ is also affiliated with several lesser but militant Jihad groups, including the al Aqsa Battalions, the Islamic Jihad, the Temple and the Islamic Jihad Squad.
The PIJ grew considerably in the 1990s and finds heavy support in the universities and mosques.
The terrorist ring is responsible for dozens of attacks and traditionally strikes at Israeli targets on the anniversary of Shqaqi's assassination. It has never struck the United States directly, but has threatened to target U.S. interests if the United States moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
A study released last year by the Anti-Defamation League showed that even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Islamic extremists continued to use the Internet as a way to communicate, coordinate and raise funds. While some of the Web sites either folded or were taken down, new ones, such as stopamerica.org -- whose administrator was indicted as a possible Al Qaeda agent -- have popped up across the Web, carrying messages of hate and destruction.