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Not So Fast, Dr. Zawahiri

Earlier I posted a RapidRecon note on media reports that the Egyptian militant group Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya had joined al-Qaeda. These reports were relying on a new video tape release by al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian whose own Egyptian Islamic Jihad joined al-Qaeda in 1998. In the video, a recording of which I have viewed on Al-Jazeera, Zawahiri announces that the Gamaa has agreed for unite its organization with al-Qaeda, and he mentions the names of specific prominent Gamaa leaders who have joined al-Qaeda.

Yet according to comments made on Al-Jazeera's popular talk show In-Depth (ma wara al-khabr) today, Zawahiri seems to have gotten ahead of himself here, either fabricating the story entirely or perhaps exaggerating some recent coordination by Gamaa members with Al-Qaeda. Al-Jazeera interviewed two Egyptian analysts, one of whom claimed that he personally knew the leadership of the Gamaa, including those whose names Zawahiri mentioned. Both of them suggested that the claim was implausible, that the Gamaa was intact and one made the point that the rationale behind the ceasefire - that the Gamaa was unable to change the Egyptian government by force - was still believed to be valid. They then interviewed a man named Karim Zahdi, who Al-Jazeera claimed to be a Gamaa leader in Egypt. He flatly denied Zawahiri's claim, and twice stated that video was made up of "lies."

It is hard to see why Zawahiri would have simply fabricated a story like this out of nothing. The Gamaa has been splintered - despite denials to the contrary - so perhaps some of their members have joined al-Qaeda. That would not be surprising. But it does seem that there is more to this story than Dr. Zawahiri's recent video suggests. At the present time, the Arabic-language news sources that we normally access have not yet published reports on this controversy (Al-Jazeera's English site has a report from last night, but it contains no more information than other initial reports). ThreatsWatch will provide updated information as more becomes available.

(A historical note: The Gamaa was founded in the late 1970s and achieved its claim to fame with the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. The militant group went on to fight an unsuccessful war against the Egyptian state until in 1997 some members decided to declare a unilateral ceasefire, a declaration which led to the reported splintering of the group.)