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Egyptian Terror Group Merged with al-Qaida, says Expert - 2002-05-22

Several U.S. officials have been warning of potential terrorist attacks against the United States. Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network and Egypt's Islamic Jihad have been mentioned as groups possibly planning such attacks. In Cairo, one terrorism expert says al Qaida and Jihad apparently merged into one organization last October.

The Jihad organization came into existence in the late 1960s as Egypt's first Islamic militant group. It emerged as a loosely-knit underground armed military faction of Jihad organizations throughout the Middle East. Jihad's goal is to topple moderate governments and replace them with hardline conservative Islamic systems.

An expert on extremist organizations for the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Dia Rashwan, says Egypt's Jihad and Osama bin Laden's al Qaida terrorist network became allies in February 1998, then merged last October after the U.S.-led war on terrorism began in Afghanistan.

Mr. Rashwan says the new group is known as Qaida-Jihad. However, he says, Jihad added only a few dozen members to al Qaida. "The Egyptian external Jihad, even after being a part of the new organization, had not very high numbers of people. All the people in this external Egyptian Jihad were already in prison or they are wanted by Egyptian security, and all of them are very known for the Egyptian security and of course for the American security. Their number is not hundreds of people but they are dozens only of people, and the majority of them live in Asia or the Arab Peninsula and in East Africa," Mr. Rashwan said. Mr. Rashwan says that Lebanon's Hezbollah and Syria's Hamas are often mentioned in the same breath with groups like al Qaida and Islamic Jihad. But, he says they really are very different organizations that never cooperate.

Even so, another expert on terrorist groups for the Al Ahram Center, Hala Mustafa, says all extremist groups in the Middle East share very similar ideologies. "There is not much difference between the ideas and the political thought of all these organizations: al Qaida, Jihad, Gemayel Islamayia, Hezbollah. They share the same ideas. They share the same point of view concerning the West in general and the United States in particular," Mr Mustafa said.

The United States has blamed Islamic Jihad for bombing the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan in 1995 and planning to attack the U.S. embassy in Albania in 1998.

Both analysts agree the United States may not be capable of stopping individual acts of terrorism. But they say that with the small number of potential terrorists versus the international awareness that was born September 11, the threat of terrorism, they believe, has been greatly reduced.