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Imprisoned Egyptian Militants Reportedly Renounce Violence - 2002-07-01

The Egyptian government appears to be enlisting the help of jailed Islamic militants in its fight against terrorism. For the first time in 20 years, government-run newspapers have published interviews with some of the militants.

The government-run weekly newspaper Al-Mussawar, in its latest two editions, published interviews with jailed leaders of the militant group Gemayaa Islamiya, in which they voiced complete opposition to the use of violence. They criticized their own 1992-1998 armed campaign against the government that claimed 1300 lives, including tourists and civilians.

The militant group was attempting to overthrow the government and transform Egypt into an Islamic state. Gemayaa Islamiya claimed responsibility for a 1997 attack in Egypt's resort town Luxor in which 58 tourists and four Egyptians were killed.

The State Department says Gemayaa Islamiya is a terrorist organization. In one of the published interviews, a jailed leader said the group ended its violence because "killing civilians and tourists is an abuse of the meaning of jihad," or holy war.

"The government hopes the words of influential militants, who have repented, will carry a message to militant groups throughout the region," said Mohammad Kamal, who teaches political science at two universities in Cairo.

"I think there is a recognition among Islamists that violence does not pay and it is not going to change the government," added Mr. Kamal. "And that it also made them lose at the level of public opinion because violence led to the killing of many civilians, it had a negative impact on the economy and so on. So using violence as a political tool is not working for them."

But not everyone agrees the convicts are repentant. "People in prison are willing to say anything if they think it will get them out," said Hala Mustafa, an expert on militant groups at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

"These people do not reflect the attitude of the whole militant groups," she said. "A group in jail, I think, will think in a very pragmatic way over a period of time and they will find a way how to get out, how to make a deal with the regime. So I do not take their contribution as a genuine contribution."

Human rights groups say about 15,000 Islamic militants are in Egyptian prisons as part of President Mubarak's crackdown on armed groups.

Egypt's government-run weekly newspaper al-Ahram recently suggested President Mubarak may be attempting "to find reconciliation with those who once advocated the overthrow of the government."