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Syria Extradites Wanted Islamist to Egypt - 2001-11-11


One of the most wanted men in Egypt has been extradited to Egypt from Syria, according to a London-based Islamic group. The man was wanted in connection with the massacre of 58 foreign tourists in 1997.

Refaie Ahmed Taha is the former chief of Egypt's al-Gama al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, that claimed responsibility for the November 17, 1997, terrorist attack in which 58 foreign tourists were killed in Luxor.

A year earlier the same group claimed responsibility for killing 18 Greek tourists in front of a hotel near Cairo's pyramids.

The group's goal to damage Egypt's economy was successful. The attacks had a chilling effect on tourism to Egypt that lasted several years and cost the country hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues.

In 1997 Taha's name was placed on a list of leading Muslim militants wanted by Egypt. Earlier he had been tried in absentia by an Egyptian military court and sentenced to death. Under Egyptian law his verdict cannot be appealed.

It was believed Taha may have been hiding in Afghanistan, but the London-based Islamic Observation Center says he was arrested several months ago in Damascus after arriving from Khartoum. From 1992-1997 the Islamic Group led an unsuccessful campaign to topple President Hosni Mubarak's government and set up a pure Islamic state. More than 1,200 people were killed in the resulting violence.

In 1997, jailed members of the group called for a truce with the Egyptian government. A year later Taha stepped down as the group's leader.

The Islamic Observation Center claims Taha had not carried out any activities within the Islamic Group or any other group since his resignation.

Although Taha is among Egypt's most influential Islamists in exile, he is not on a U.S. list of alleged terrorists issued after the September 11 terrorist attacks.