Explainer: Who is Egypt’s Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya that the US is removing from its terrorism blacklist?

Amr Kandil , Monday 16 May 2022

The US is set to remove five inactive extremist groups from its foreign terrorist organisations list, including Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, which is blamed for terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of policemen, civilians and tourists in Egypt.

Jamaa Al-Islamiya
Jamaa Al-Islamiya


Active since the late 1970s, the group has been blamed for a campaign of violence in Egypt, especially in the 1990s, and is designated by the country as a terrorist group.

The five groups are expected to be formally removed from the US blacklist next week, the US State Department said in notices to lawmakers, according to the Associated Press.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in the notices that the circumstances that were the basis for the designation of the five groups have changed in such a manner to warrant revocation of the designation.

The US review of the blacklist takes into consideration the activities of the designated groups, including whether they committed terrorist acts within the last five years and whether their removal can harm US national security interests.

Removing groups from the US blacklist of foreign terrorist groups immediately removes a range of sanctions imposed on them, including asset freezes and travel bans as well as a ban on providing any material support to these groups by US citizens.

Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya has been on the US foreign terrorist organisations list over the past 25 years, since 1997. This was the same year that saw a massacre by Islamist militants of 71 people, including tourists, outside the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor.

Although investigations have proved the group members were behind the massacre, the group denied in 2013 its involvement in the attack.

Major attacks

The US decision to remove Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya has been widely denounced in Egypt, including by senior security sources.

In remarks to the press, a security source said the American decision is a “hostile” attitude by the Biden administration towards Egypt, warning that the removal of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya from the US blacklist will give the group a “kiss of life”.

The source pointed to the attacks attributed to the terrorist group, which claimed the lives of hundreds of police and army personnel, saying the US decision grants the group international legitimacy and gives it the green light to resume its terrorist activities.

The Egyptian Islamist movement surfaced in the eighties and nineties with a spate of terrorist attacks aimed at overthrowing the regimes of Presidents Anwar El-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.

The group is believed to have been involved in the assassination of President Anwar El-Sadat in 1981 during the commemoration ceremony of the 1973 victory over Israel in the October War.

The group is also believed to have been involved in the assassination attempt against President Hosni Mubarak in 1995, along with the Islamist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and the assassination of parliament speaker Rifaat El-Mahgoub in 1990.

Other terrorist operations have also been blamed on the group, including the murder of well-known columnist Farag Foda in 1992. In 1996, the group killed several Greek tourists mistaken for Israelis outside the Europa Hotel in Cairo.

Following years of confrontations with security forces, the Islamist group's presence has been barely felt over the past decades.

In the late nineties, the group launched a non-violence initiative, where its members formally renounced violence and bloodshed.

Following the 2011 revolution, the group took the political route, establishing El-Benaa Wel Tanmia (Building and Development) political party. However, the Supreme Administrative Court issued a final ruling in 2020 to dissolve the party and confiscate its funds for funding terrorist groups.

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