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Jemaah Islamiya Has Roots in Egypt - 2002-10-23

The U.S. State Department expanded its terrorism list Wednesday adding Jemaah Islamiya, a shadowy group with alleged links to the al-Qaida terror network. Some Indonesian officials have accused the group of involvement in the deadly bombings in Bali earlier this month. While different factions of Jemaah Islamiya exist internationally, the organization traces its roots to Egypt.

The Indonesian arm of Jemaah Islamiya is very similar to the original organization that emerged in Egypt in the late 1970s. The Egyptian group, known as Gama'a al-Islamiyya, already has a place on the State Department list of terrorist organizations. Among other things, it is accused of an attack on tourists in Luxor, Egypt, in which 58 people died. Hala Mustafa, an expert on terrorism who heads the Islamic fundamentalist unit of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says the two groups have a lot in common.

"I think there is a link because both organizations share a lot of ideas," she said. "I think they have the same political ideas and they embrace the same ideology. And, at the same time, they are very similar in tactics. If you notice the last attack in Bali was very similar to the attack against tourists in Egypt in Luxor in 1997."

But in recent years the Egyptian government has been cracking down hard on Gama'a al-Islamiyya. The group is believed to pose far less a threat than it did in years past. Today its members insist they reject violence as a means of achieving their goals.

But Ms. Mustafa says the goal of any faction of Gama'a al-Islamiyya is to topple governments and replace them with Islamic regimes.

Ms. Mustafa says one of the group's trademarks is to attack tourists in an effort to weaken local economies and, in turn, destabilize governments. She adds that she would not be surprised if the southeast Asian branch of the group is linked with the Bali bombing.

"It's part of their strategy to undermine their local or national political regime, and second to embarrass this regime internationally and try to isolate it from any backing or support from outside," she said.

Ms. Mustafa also believes it is very likely that the Indonesian group has links with al-Qaida, as the State Department claims. She says al-Qaida is a group that has evolved from several terrorist organizations.

"Al-Qaida itself, it wasn't a local organization but it was a kind of gathering to many different organizations in their home country. It was a gathering from Jihad, from Gama'a al-Islamiyya, from many other organizations from several Arab and Muslim countries," said Ms. Mustafa.

Once a group is placed on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, it becomes a crime for any person in the United States to contribute funds to it. The members of the group also can be denied visas to enter the United States if they are aliens. American financial institutions are also required to block the group's funds.