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Sunday, 16 September, 2001, 04:32 GMT 05:32 UK
Egypt helps US anti-terror campaign
Egyptian newspaper report
An Egyptian man reads a report of the attacks
By Heba Saleh in Cairo

Egypt, one of the United States main strategic partners in the Middle East, has said it will co-operate in the American investigation into the attacks in New York and Washington.

One of the suspects named by US investigators is an Egyptian, Mohamed Atta.

He is said to have been a member of a team which steered hijacked airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.

Mohamed Atta
Mohamed Atta: Believed to have piloted one of the planes
So far, very little is known about Atta, other than that he had studied at a university in Germany, and had taken flying lessons in Florida.

In Egypt, his name is associated with neither of the two militant Islamic organisations, which have operated in the country during the last 20 years.

The two groups, Jihad and Gamaa Islamiya, are currently inactive in Egypt. But both have been linked to Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, the man suspected by the United States of having masterminded the attacks.

Leaders from the two organisations, along with dozens of their men have gravitated to Afghanistan where many have joined Mr Bin Laden.

Right hand man

The Saudi dissident's right-hand man, according to some reports is Ayman El Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor who also heads the externally-based faction of Jihad.

Osama Bin Laden
New funds could be used to strike at Osama Bin Laden

Mr El Zawahri is described as a man of extensive experience, who has worked from an early age with all the Islamic groups in Egypt starting with the Muslim Brotherhood.

An Egyptian expert says he has been converted by Mr Bin Laden from being a nationalist Islamist concerned with bringing Islamic government to his country to an internationalist dedicated to attacking US interests anywhere in the world.

Like Mr Bin Laden, Mr El Zawahri now believes that his mission is to undermine the US, because it is behind the weakening of Islamic governments and peoples.

If Mr Bin Laden is eventually proved to have been behind the attacks on New York and Washington, there is a likelihood, that Mr Zawahri's followers could also be involved.

Jihad implicated

Jihad was implicated in the 1998 bombing attacks against the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Anti-US protesters in Egypt
Anti-US protests in Egypt - a day before the attacks
Indeed shortly before that attack, Jihad joined an organisation set up by Mr Bin Laden, calling itself the International Islamic Front for Combating Crusaders and Jews, which declared a holy war against the United States.

Mr Zawahri is said to be at odds with Jihad's imprisoned leaders in Egypt, and the faction he leads appears to be mainly based abroad. Jihad itself has not carried out any attacks inside Egypt since 1993.

Both Jihad and the Gamaa Islamiya have been considerably weakened by repeated blows from the Egyptian security services. Several of their leaders are serving long sentences in jail, while others are in exile.

In 1997, Gamaa leaders announced from jail that the group would abandon armed attacks. The group had been responsible for shooting tourists, security officials and Coptic Christians.

The last operation attributed to the Gamaa was the 1997 Luxor massacre, in which 58 tourists were killed.

Leaders of the group currently in Afghanistan include Refa'i Ahmed Taha and Muhammed Al Islambouli, the brother of the man who assassinated former president Anwar El Sadat.

Autonomous group

Experts, however, say that they are not under Mr Bin Laden's control.

They are in Afghanistan because it is the only place where they can live given that all have death sentences hanging over their heads in Egypt.

There seems to have been an attempt to involve Gamaa leaders in Afghanistan in Mr Bin Laden's Front for Combating Crusaders and Jews, but it appears that the leadership in Egypt objected and the group quickly distanced itself.

There have been no arrests in the ranks of the Gamaa in connection with attacks on any American targets.

President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak
urges President Bush not to react too quickly
See also:

14 Sep 01 | Americas
America's invisible enemy
13 Sep 01 | Americas
Allies boost US confidence
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