Egyptian Islamic Group Denies Joining Al Qaeda

A leader of an Egyptian militant group denied Sunday that it had joined Al Qaeda saying the majority of its members are sticking by a truce they declared almost a decade ago.

"Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya is strong and solid and not affected at all by nonsense here or there," Karam Zohdy, one of the group's most senior leaders, said on Al Jazeera news network. "What Ayman al-Zawahri has said is sheer fabrication and lying."

Zawahri, Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, said in a new videotape aired Saturday that al-Gamaa al-Islamiya had joined the terror network. It was the first time that Al Qaeda has announced a branch in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation.

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Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, was once the largest Egyptian militant group that waged a campaign of violence during the 1990s but was crushed in a government crackdown.

Zawahri said the groups were joining "in one front facing their enemies in the most imperious crusade carried out against Islam in all its history."

In a statement posted on al-Gamaa al-Islamiya's Web Site on Sunday, the group said it "flatly denies what Ayman al-Zawahri had said about it joining Al Qaeda." The statement was signed by the group's leaders who spent more than 20 years behind bars for their roles in assassinating President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

They were released after they promised to renounce violence and expressed regret for their bloody past. The group, which tried to overthrow the government, announced a cease-fire in 1997.

Zawahri said the Egyptian group was led by Mohammed al-Islambouli, the younger brother of Khaled al-Islambouli, the militant who assassinated Sadat who was later executed.

Mohammed al-Islambouli left Egypt in the mid-1980s and was believed to have been in Afghanistan working with Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.

Zohdy didn't mention al-Islambouli by name, but said "all organizations, even religions, when some decide to split from, doesn't affect them," he said. Zohdy, believed to be in his 50s, is the head of al-Gamaa's consultative council.

"I regret and apologize that al-Zawahri showed up to say such things," he told Al Jazeera in a live telephone interview, his first interview with the media, since he was released in late 2003.

The group's statement said the dispute between al-Gamma and Al Qaeda is "deep," and it appealed to the terror network to review its vision. The group also declared its opposition to killing women and children and attacking Shiite mosques in Iraq, according to the statement.

Zawahri, an Egyptian, was once a leader of Islamic Jihad, the other main Egyptian militant group that led violence in the 1990s alongside the original al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, opposed the group's truce in 1997. Experts on militant groups believes its one of the main reasons he joined bin Laden and formed Al Qaeda early 1998 in Afghanistan, bringing a number of Egyptian militants with him.

The excerpts of Zawahri's video played by Al Jazeera did not mention any imminent threats of attacks in Egypt.