Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), or al Jihad, was founded in the late 1970s by several Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic groups that emerged in Egypt simultaneous to the jihad in Afghanistan. Their intent was to overthrow the Egyptian government and replace it with an Islamic state. In the organization’s earliest days, Omar Abdel Rahman (of the Islamic Group) and Ayman al-Zawahiri were leaders of competing branches within EIJ. In the mid-1980s, al-Zawahiri, a close associate of Osama bin Laden, established himself as the group’s top authority. Omar Abdel Rahman remained a key figure as well; he is today considered EIJ’s spiritual leader.
Shortly after al-Zawahiri took the reins of EIJ, the organization expanded into an international entity. A number of Egyptian terrorists came to the U.S. and created sleeper cells with ties to EIJ and the still-young al Qaeda. One EIJ member, Ali Mohammed, joined the U.S. Special Forces, where he served as a sergeant. Another, Mahmud Abouhalima, moved to New York City and joined the National Rifle Association. El Sayyid Nosair, an Egyptian militant affiliated with the cell, murdered the right-wing rabbi Meir Kahane in New York in 1990.
While EIJ is well established in the Cairo area, its membership, which consists of Sunni fundamentalists, is now located mostly outside of Egypt. The organization is particularly active in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and the United Kingdom.
Specializing in armed attacks against high-level Egyptian government personnel, EIJ is responsible for the assassinations of numerous Egyptian officials, including President Anwar Sadat in 1981. The group has also made several attempts — among which was at least one joint effort with al Qaeda — to assassinate current Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek. In 1995 EIJ bombed the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. Over the course of the 1990s, the organization was responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,300 people.
In 1998, members of EIJ merged with members of other terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, to form the International Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders — to be led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. EIJ’s other leader, Mohammed Atef (who, like al-Zawahiri, was linked to bin Laden), was killed in a bombing raid near Kabul in November of 2001.
According to a November 21, 2001 article in The New York Times, Egyptian Islamic Jihad members made up the core of the al Qaeda organization by the time the 9/11 attacks were carried out. The relationship between the two groups began in the early 1990s, forged by numerous veterans of the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. As al Qaeda expanded, EIJ helped it recruit new members who were gifted in such areas as marksmanship, military planning, and forgery. EIJ, Islamic Group, and al Qaeda operatives all joined forces to carry out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In 1995 Ayman al-Zawahiri made a fundraising visit to California, where he stayed with Osama bin Laden’s chief of security, Ali Mohammed. According to experts quoted in the aforementioned Times article, the way in which the 9/11 attacks were carried out mirrored most EIJ operations, in that it was a suicide mission against a symbolic target — and the main goal was to kill as many people as possible. By the end of 2001, close to 200 of Osama bin Laden’s top operatives were members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad. EIJ is today considered a regional adjunct of al Qaeda, essentially a branch office in Egypt.
EIJ is also believed to have been involved in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, attacks which led to the historic _U.S. v. bin Laden _criminal case that first brought bin Laden’s name into the headlines.
According to the Egyptian government, EIJ receives financial support from both Iran and Osama bin Laden. It is also believed to receive some funding through various Islamic nongovernmental organizations, cover businesses, and criminal enterprises.
Among the most infamous members of EIJ was the 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, who flew an airliner into the World Trade Center that day.