CAIRO, Egypt—Al-Qaida's weekend announcement that a prominent Egyptian militant group had joined forces with the terror network doesn't signal a significant new threat, Egyptian analysts and former militants said Sunday.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician who is Osama bin Laden's second in command, said in a video message Saturday that "a great faction of knights" from Gamaa Islamiya had united with al-Qaida to battle Israel and its Western supporters. Gamaa Islamiya officials issued hasty denials that it had joined al-Qaida, but acknowledged that a few of its current or former members might do so.
"If some brothers have joined, then this is their personal view and I don't think that most Gamaa Islamiya members share that same opinion," Sheikh Abdel Akher Hammad, a former leader of the group who now lives in Germany, told the Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
Al-Zawahiri's message also was aired on Al-Jazeera, which broadcast portions of the video in which the al-Qaida No. 2 said the union was designed "to combine the efforts of the Islamic nation against the worst crusader campaign against Islam in history."
Several analysts said the statement doesn't amount to much of a threat.
"This announcement is weightless," said Montasser Zayat, a Cairo attorney who has defended several militants associated with Gamaa Islamiya and shared a cell with al-Zawahiri in the 1980s.
Gamaa Islamiya is an Islamist militant organization that was responsible for a string of terrorist attacks targeting Egypt's tourism industry during the 1990s. Its deadliest attack came in 1997 in the southern city of Luxor, where militants killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians.
The group also claimed responsibility for a failed assassination attempt against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a visit to Ethiopia in 1995. Members of the group also were involved in the assassination of Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981.
Gamaa Islamiya renounced violence in the late 1990s and entered a truce with the government. In April, Egypt released 950 of the group's members, including some who had been in prison since Sadat's killing.
Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamist militant movements for the Ahram Center in Cairo, said al-Zawahiri's announcement was an attempt for the group to stay relevant in Egypt as world attention is turned to conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon.
"This is absolute nonsense. Al-Gamaa has a very intact leadership and is a very organized group, and they are currently on good terms with the Egyptian government," Rashwan said.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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