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Monday, December 8, 1997 Published at 12:45 GMT



Despatches
image: [ BBC Correspondent: Barbara Plett ]Barbara Plett
Cairo

Exiled leaders of the Egyptian militant group that said it killed 58 foreigners in Luxor last month have called for an end to attacks on tourists. In a statement received by the London-based Arabic newspaper, Al Hayat, the leaders of the Gama'at al-Islamiya also condemned the massacre and said they had not ordered it. The Egyptian government has stepped up pressure on western countries that it says shelter fugitives from extremist groups who direct militant operations from exile. Barbara Plett reports from Cairo:

In a statement, the Gama'at leaders in exile said they had conducted an internal review after the massacre and decided to end the policy of targeting tourists as a tactic in their war with the government. The leaders also dissociated themselves from the Luxor massacre.

They denied writing previous claims of responsibility and said they had not commissioned the operation, although they acknowledged it had been carried out by what they called the new youth of the Gama'at. The killers had left behind leaflets at the scene of the massacre suggesting that they were following orders from the group's military commander, Mustafa Hamza, thought to be living in Afghanistan.

The statement in the newspaper Al Hayat said the exiled leaders had only recently been able to contact Mustafa Hamza, who denied any involvement. With this declaration, the Gama'at militants abroad have indicated that they support the position of their founding members, who offered a similar truce from jail in September.

It's not clear whether they are acting because of pressure from Egypt's stepped-up campaign against countries that shelter fugitive Islamists, nor is it clear whether they will be able to influence their young followers in the Egyptian countryside, who have grown more radical in the face of a brutal crackdown by security forces.





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