This "Explainer" is drawn from "Terrorism: Questions and Answers," the Council on Foreign Relations' online encyclopedia of terrorism. Click here for the full site.
Tuesday, the Justice Department charged Lynne Stewart, a lawyer, with providing "material support of a terrorism organization." Prosecutors claim Stewart helped her imprisoned client, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, a conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center attack, transmit messages to the Islamic Group (also known as Jamaat Al-Islamiyya). What is the Islamic Group and is it linked to al-Qaida?
The Islamic Group is Egypt's largest Islamist militant organization. Its militants seek to overthrow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom they see as corrupt, impious, and repressive, and replace his government with an Islamist state. The U.S. State Department added the Islamic Group to its list of foreign terrorist organizations and estimates that at its peak, the group had several thousand "hardcore members" and several thousand sympathizers.
An offshoot of the much older group called the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Group has been active in Egypt since the 1970s. It draws young lower- and middle-class followers from the country's south and from Cairo's slums. The group's military leader is Mustafa Hamza; its spiritual leader, Abdul Rahman, remains in U.S. prison. The Egyptian government claims the group sustains itself with financial support from Iran, Sudan, and various militant groups in Afghanistan.
Islamic Group members have carried out armed attacks against Coptic Christians, Egyptian officials, and tourists. In June 1995, the group claimed credit for an assassination attempt against Hosni Mubarak in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia. In 1997, group members killed 58 foreign tourists at Luxor. In response to these attacks, the Egyptian government has waged a bitter campaign of state violence, mass arrests, and financial crackdowns against the Islamic Group. Both sides have largely honored a March 1999 cease-fire.
The Islamic Group has numerous connections to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaida network. The Islamic Group's leaders fought alongside the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Exiled members have joined al-Qaida and trained at its camps in Afghanistan. Rifa'i Taha Musa, a former senior member of the Islamic Group, signed Bin Laden's 1998 fatwa that called for attacks against American citizens. In 2000, Taha Musa appeared in a video with Bin Laden demanding Abdul Rahman's release and threatening retaliation against the United States. Two of Abdul Rahman's sons joined Bin Laden, according to this CNN.com story.
Despite these links, the Islamic Group has publicly denied it supports Bin Laden.