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Founder of Group Responsible for '97 Luxor Massacre Arrested - 2002-06-12


Egyptian authorities have arrested a founder of one of Egypt's largest Muslim militant groups. The group has associated itself with a deadly attack on tourists and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

Salah Hashem is the co-founder of the al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, a group that claimed responsibility for killing 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians in a 1997 ambush near Egypt's southern city of Luxor.

The massacre gained the group international notoriety and severely damaged Egypt's tourist industry. Shortly after the attack, the group announced it was abandoning violence. No major attacks involving Islamic militants have been reported for several years.

Mr. Hashem's lawyer said the Islamist leader was arrested Saturday at his home in Sohag about 500 kilometers south of Cairo. The lawyer said Mr. Hashem will be interrogated by the prosecutors' office Wednesday and may face formal charges. Egyptian authorities have not disclosed what charges may be pending.

Mr. Hashem has advocated non-violence as a means of overthrowing the government and creating an Islamist state. His group, formed in the 1970s, initially focused on preaching its cause but resorted to violence in the late 70s.

Mr. Hashem split with the group after some of its members were involved in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Mr. Hashem re-emerged as a leading figure in the group in the mid-1990s because of his support for a ceasefire with the Egyptian government.

Hala Mustafa is an expert on fundamentalist groups at the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. She said Mr. Hashem's arrest might cause some members of al-Gama'a al-Islamiya to want to seek revenge. But she said such an event is not likely.

"I think the first thing they can think of is to lead some sort of violent action against the regime or the state. But taking into consideration the weakened position or status of this organization in the last few years, I don't expect a big reaction or major reaction," Mr. Mustafa said.

The group has maintained a ceasefire in Egypt for five years.

From 1992 to 1997 about 1,200 people - mostly police and militants - were killed during an armed campaign by extremist groups in Egypt that were trying to topple the government and form an Islamic state.

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