Egyptian militants: Violence was mistakeCompiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002
CAIRO -- From the cells of a notorious prison nicknamed "The Scorpion," the men who plotted Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981 and served as godfathers of Islamic militancy in Egypt have declared the violence that they once endorsed a historic mistake.
They have promised to formally apologize to their victims, recognized the legitimacy of governments they once reviled, and issued a call for peaceful Islamic activism that has ignited a debate across the Arab world.
The statements, carried in a series of articles in an Egyptian magazine, seek to overturn the tenets that have inspired a generation of Islamic militancy.
More remarkable is their source: the now middle-aged men from Egypt's most impoverished region who provided the ideological rigor for an Islamic movement that carried out bombings, massacres of tourists, and a bloody insurgency in the 1990s. The turmoil they unleashed once threatened the stability of President Hosni Mubarak, Washington's most important Arab ally.
The interviews with the imprisoned leaders of al-Gam'a al-Islamiya have enlivened arguments that have raged in the Arab and Muslim world for years, and with added urgency in the wake of Sept. 11.
"In our time, many Muslim youth challenged Muslim states and their institutions and fought against them in the name of jihad. The result was that the youth harvested great evil and weakened the nation," said Ali al-Sharif, one of the imprisoned leaders. In hindsight, he said, that confrontation "is prohibited by Islamic law because Islam never condones evil."
The man recognized as the group's leader, Karam Zuhdi, added that the transformation "cannot be temporary or tactical. It is a strategic vision."
While some in Islamic circles and Egypt's government question the men's sincerity, most endorse the importance of their words.
"It's a turning point. I think it is a decisive moment for the Islamic movement," said Makram Mohammed Ahmed, who conducted the interviews for the magazine al-Musawar. "How do you break the cycle of violence? We have a chance now."
Man fires at chopper, thinking it's terrorists
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- A man armed with an assault-style rifle opened fire on a helicopter landing in a residential neighborhood, thinking the chopper was carrying terrorists, police said.
Helicopter pilot John Sutton landed his helicopter July 13 at the home of businessman John Peters to pick him up, police said.
John Chwaszczewski, a semiretired construction worker, became alarmed when he saw the chopper swoop down over his garage, about a block from Peters' home.
"Maybe I overreacted, but I did feel this was terrorism at its utmost," Chwaszczewski said.
BROTHER NAMED GOVERNOR:
Din Mohammed, the eldest brother of slain Vice President Abdul Qadir, was named governor of eastern Nangarhar province Saturday, in a move that was largely expected.
People who want to visit the United States from Saudi Arabia no longer can apply for visas at travel agencies, the State Department said Saturday.
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