Al-Jihad al-Islami

Sammy Salama
Joe-Ryan Bergoch
February 2008

Other Names Used: Egyptian Islamic Jihad [EIJ], Tanzim al-Jihad, al-Gihad al-Islami

Founder & Founding Date: Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam Farraj founded this group in 1979 in Cairo, Egypt, while he was in his mid-twenties.

Area of Operations

While all of al-Jihad’s armed operations have occurred within Egypt, the group is known to have placed operatives or maintained cells at various times in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, and throughout Western Europe. Many of the group’s present leaders, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, are believed to be located in Waziristan Province, Pakistan, alongside and among the Majlis al-Shura of al-Qa’ida.

Notable Leaders

  • Mohammed Abd al-Salam Farraj
  • Col. Abbud Abd el-Latif al-Zumor
  • Khalid al-Islambouli
  • Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri

Prominent Attacks

  • Assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Saddat on October 6, 1981
  • Attempted assassination of Egyptian Information Minister, Safwat al-Sharif, in April 1993
  • Attempted assassination of a former Interior Minister, Hasan al-Alfi, in August 1993
  • Attempted assassination of former Prime Minister, Arif Sidqi, in December 1993

Group Ideology

Aljihad Farraj

Mohammed Abd al-Salam Farraj, Source:

The manifesto of al-Jihad al-Islami was provided by the group’s founder Mohammed Abd al-Salam Farraj in the short manuscript, “al-Faridah al-Gha’ibah” (The Neglected Duty). In the opening paragraphs, Farraj begins by stating that “Jihad for God’s cause…has been neglected by the ulema of this age.” [1] While the traditional Islamic interpretation of jihad is primarily one of personal struggle for moral rectitude, Farraj views this as an obfuscation of the truth. He contended that: “The real character of this duty is clearly spelled out in the text of the Quran: It is fighting, which means confrontation and blood.”[2] Furthermore, he portays violent jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam, an “individual duty” that “requires a drop of sweat from every Muslim.”[3] Al-Jihad’s primary goal was to establish an “Islamic State” in Egypt, through revolution brought about by a righteous vanguard of believers. Farraj argued that jihad is not a popular struggle, for “Islam does not triumph by (attracting the support of) the majority.”[4] The eventual goal was the reestablishment of the Muslim caliphate.

Many of the ideas put forward in “al-Faridah al-Gha’ibah”, however, were not new to existing militant Islamist thinking. Farraj borrowed heavily from the work of two men in particular: the medieval Hanbali jurist Ahmed Ibn Taymiyya, and the prominent Egyptian Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb. Ibn Taymiyya, who witnessed the demise of the Abbasid dynasty in the 13th century following the Mongol invasion, attributed the decline of Muslim military might to society’s perceived deviation from “authentic” Islam. In Taymiyya’s view, social and political ills can only be solved through the purification of Islam. His principal contribution to the ideology of al-Jihad, however, came with the issuing of a fatwa (legal ruling) that set a precedent for the practice of takfir (excommunication). Although the Mongol rulers converted to Islam in 1295 AD, their failure to implement the shari’a, according to Taymiyya, made them kufar (apostates). Moreover, Taymiyyah also viewed violent jihad against these apostates as the sixth pillar of Islam and a personal duty for every able-bodied Muslim.[5]

Sayyid Qutb, a prominent and radical member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was executed by Egyptian authorities in 1966, paved the way both for al-Jihad and for the modern day jihadist movement as a whole. Qutb’s ideology marked a radical break with the incrementalist approach of Egyptian Islamists who sought to establish an Islamic state through da’wa (proselyzation) and participation in the political system. Qutb characterized modern Egyptian society as jahiliyya (pre-Islamic Arabia), a time of ignorance and unbelief. According to Qutb, the destruction of the jahili order was “an imperative that all Muslims must strive to implement or impose immediately.”[6] Violent jihad was not only Qutb’s preferred means for achieving this end, but (like Ibn Taymiyya) a duty that was incumbent on all believers. He justified this position by arguing that while Egyptians were overwhelmingly Muslim, the fact that Egypt’s leaders ruled by ‘heretical’ secular laws (akham al-kufr), and not by Shari’a law rendered them apostates. Therefore, armed struggle was necessary to bring down the government, and those who refused to participate in the jihad were also deemed apostates, and subject to takfir.[7] Like Qutb, Farraj believed that the “extermination” of Egypt’s rulers was the first priority.[8] While acknowledging the perceived malevolence of the infidel West, he maintained that “to fight an enemy who is near is more important than to fight an enemy who is far.”[9]

Group History

Aljihad Zumor

Col. Abbud Abd el-Latif al-Zumof, Source:

The Islamist terrorist organization, al-Jihad al-Islami (“The Islamic Holy War”), emerged in 1979 as Egypt’s latest and most radical offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It began as a small underground group based out of the Cairo districts of Boulaq, Nahia, and Kerdasa, under the leadership of jihadi ideologue Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam Farraj.[10] From 1979 through mid 1981, al-Jihad absorbed the cadres and leaders of a number of other underground tanzims, or groups, which had been established throughout the 1960s and 1970s.[11] While Farraj provided the ideological blueprint for the group, military expertise was provided by Egyptian Army Col. Abbud Abd el-Latif al-Zumor, who joined al-Jihad in early 1980.[12] First Lt. Khalid al-Islambouli, whose brother headed an Islamist student group at Asyut University and was a member of al-Jama’a al-Islamiya, joined al-Jihad in early 1981 after meeting Farraj.[13] Karam Zuhdi, the founder of al-Jama’a al-Islamiya was introduced to Farraj in 1980.[14] Farraj, Zuhdi, and al-Jihad leaders Nabil Abd al-Maguid al-Maghrabi, Fouad al-Dawalibi and al-Zumor formed a committee to establish a majlis al-shura (consultative council) for the group. The organizational and decision-making structure of al-Jihad al-Islami was thus finalized by the end of the fall of 1980, complete with Upper and Lower Egyptian branches, and multiple cells throughout Egypt’s urban centers.[15]

A number of political developments precipitated al-Jihad’s decision to take radical action in the fall of 1981, culminating in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Saddat. For a number of years members of al-Jihad had been outraged by Saddat’s failure to keep his earlier promises to implement the shari’a. A 1979 law granting women more civil rights further earned Saddat the ire of Islamists. Finally, Saddat’s visit to Israel and subsequent signing of the Camp David accord in 1978 bolstered his image as a villainous “apostate” worthy of death among militant Islamists.

On September 2, 1981, Egyptian president Anwar Saddat issued a decree calling for the arrest of 1,536 Islamist militants for “undermining the unity of the nation and its security.”[16] Mohammed al-Islambouli (Khalid al-Islambouli’s brother) was among those listed, as well as a large number of Islamist ulema including Karam Zuhdi, the founder of al-Jama’a al-Islamiya.[17]

Aljihad IslambouliThe plan to assassinate Saddat was initially proposed to Farraj by Khalid al-Islambouli in late September 1981. Khalid al-Islambouli had been put in command of an armored transport vehicle that was to take part in a military parade commemorating Egypt’s crossing of the Suez Canal during the 1973 War, and he saw this as a rare opportunity to get close to Saddat.[18] The details of the operation, and its feasibility, were discussed and agreed upon by the leaders of al-Jihad during a meeting held on September 26, 1981.[19] Col. al-Zumor opposed the timing of the Saddat assassination for practical considerations. He argued that the group was not yet ready to instigate a full blown revolt against the government and that more time was necessary to recruit additional members. However, al-Zumor’s objections were overruled by the majlis ideologues.

On October 6, 1981, as al-Islambouli’s vehicle approached Saddat’s reviewing stand, he and his accomplices opened fire and advanced toward the president. As Saddat fell, al-Islambouli reportedly shouted “I have killed Pharaoh!”[20] Despite the immense impact of the assassination, killing Saddat was intended to constitute only one element in a larger multi-pronged strategy. The entire operation planned by al-Zumor included seizing control of the Army’s operation room and the Central Security headquarters, along with the Radio and Television and Telephone Exchange buildings, where a communiqué would be broadcast announcing the beginning of the “Islamic Revolution.” According to al-Zumor’s plan, on the same day as the attacks were occurring in Cairo, the Upper Egyptian branch of al-Jihad would establish military control over the city of Asyut in central Egypt, from where they would advance north.[21] The uprising in Asyut, however, did not occur for another two days and was quickly, and violently, suppressed by government security forces. Al-Zumor’s elaborate plan had failed.

Post 1981

Aljihad Saddat Assassination

The assassination of Anwar Saddat, Source:

After Saddat’s assassination, Egypt’s vice-president, Hosni Mubarak, assumed the presidency. Mubarak’s response to the events of October 1981 was swift and harsh. A total of 302 individuals, including the vast majority of both al-Jihad and al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya’s leaders and central operatives, were arrested and prosecuted by the State Supreme Security Court in what became known as the “Jihad” case. Twenty three others, including Khalid al-Islambouli and Mohammed Farraj, were tried separately by a military court. Farraj, al-Islambouli and his fellow assassins were subsequently executed in April 1982, while al-Zumor, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others were handed lengthy prison sentences.[22] Behind bars, the relative unity that had characterized the Egyptian militant Islamist movement throughout the months prior to the Saddat assassination began to dissolve. A leadership struggle ensued between the Upper Egyptian, al-Jihad-affiliated members of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya and the Lower Egyptian amirs (leaders) of al-Jihad. While the Upper Egyptian members argued in support of Sheikh Omar Abd al-Rahman’s leadership, the latter, loyal to al-Zumor, opposed the “rule of the blind.”[23] The limited cooperative agreement between the two groups, along with their majlis, was officially dissolved in 1984.[24]

Throughout the middle and late 1980s, al-Jihad was characterized by a division of loyalty between al-Zumor and Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose influence among the group’s members had grown dramatically during his time in jail.[25] Al-Zumor retained symbolic leadership, while his deputy, Magdi Salem, exercised de facto control from outside prison. After being acquitted of having been involved in the assassination plot and released from jail in 1984, al-Zawahiri pushed to unify the remaining members of al-Jihad and continue the group’s struggle against the Egyptian government. He did not remain in Egypt for long, however, moving to Saudi Arabia for a brief period and then on to Peshawar, Pakistan in 1986. In Peshawar he worked with Abdullah Azzam in facilitating the recruitment, training, and deployment of the Arab mujahideen to the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. It was also at this time that he established a personal and professional relationship with Usama bin Ladin. In 1987 he declared the formation of Tanzim al-Jihad, or the “Jihad Group,” appointing his close friend, Dr. al-Sayyid Imam Abdel Azeez, as amir. Over the next two years al-Zawahiri succeeded in recruiting many of the Egyptian jihadis loyal to al-Zumor, who were then sent to gain military experience in Afghanistan. [26]

Aljihad Zawahiri

Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Source:

Al-Zawahiri’s decision to reinvigorate the Islamist revolution coincided with the escalation of violence being carried out by a revitalized al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya. While al-Jama’a focused their attacks on symbols of Western influence and tourist sites—which al-Zawahiri viewed as “politically counterproductive”—Tanzim al-Jihad reinitiated armed operations against the Egyptian “apostate” government in 1992, focusing on targeted assassinations of high profile political figures.[27] Three assassination attempts on Egyptian officials are known to be the work of Tanzim; the targets of those attempts were the information minister in April 1993, a former interior minister in August 1993, and a former prime minister in December 1993.[28]

Tanzim’s network based in Egypt was decimated by President Mubarak’s heavy handed response to militant Islamist groups. Tanzim was dealt a catastrophic blow in October 1993, when authorities seized a computer that held the identities of the vast majority of Tanzim’s cadres; the same operation also resulted in the arrest of Ahmed Salama Mabruk, Zawahiri’s second-in-command.[29] Furthermore, although a minority of Egyptians had been sympathetic to militant Islamists in the 1970s, any popular support for the violent activities of these groups had evaporated by the mid-1990s. The “unintended” killing of a schoolgirl named Shayma during the attempted assassination of former Prime Minister Atef Sidqi in December 1993, in particular, galvanized public condemnation of al-Jihad.[30] Following this killing, Al-Zawahiri made a concerted effort to distance himself from the operation that killed Shayma, and the general moral of al-Jihad’s members appeared to have been negatively impacted by the killing.[31] The absence of a sympathetic base, combined with financial difficulties and operational blunders, prompted al-Zawahiri to issue an internal memo in 1995 instructing his deputies to suspend armed operations in Egypt.[32]

Organizational Structure

Al-Jihad al-Islami was established in 1979 and for the first year it functioned as a loose confederation of cells. In the fall of 1980 a Majlis al-Shura (consultative council) was appointed as the central decision-making body, with Farraj as its amir. Three subcommittees were put in place below the Majlis: Lajna al-‘Ida (Preparation), Lajna al-Da’wa (Propaganda), and the Lajna al-Iqtissad (Economics). The responsibilities of recruitment were “distributed among the members…according to their geographical location.” The most prominent mechanisms for recruitment into the organization were reportedly “kinship and friendship ties.” [33]

While al-Jihad upheld a relatively non-selective, “open door” policy toward new members, sensitive information was only given to those who had undergone extensive observation and testing.[34] In total, five or six cells operated in the Cairo area, with the Upper Egyptian members maintaining clandestine groups alongside al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya’s pre-existing network.[35]


Unknown, likely a few hundred at its height.

Leaders Background

Mohammed Abd al-Salam Farraj was born in the Dolongat neighborhood of Beheira, Egypt, in 1956. After graduating from the Engineering faculty, Farraj worked as an administrator in Cairo University. Farraj was also an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood prior to his involvement with militant Islamism..

Abbud Abd el-Latif al-Zumor grew up in the Imbaba district of Giza, Egypt, where he was born in 1946. A successful student in school, al-Zumor joined the military, where he became a war hero for his service during the 1973 war with Israel. During his involvement in al-Jihad, al-Zumor was a colonel in the intelligence branch of the Egyptian army.[36]

Khalid al-Islambouli was born in Mallwai (a small town outside of Minya) in 1958. He was from a religious and highly-regarded family. His father worked as a legal consultant, while his uncle was a retired judge. A good student, his high baccalaureate marks entitled him to enter medical school. He joined the military instead to become a pilot. After graduating from the Military Academy with honors, Khalid joined al-Jihad in early 1981.[37]

Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in 1951 in Cairo, Egypt. One of his grandfathers was a rector of al-Azhar, the center of Sunni Islamic scholarship in the Arab world, and the other president of Cairo University. Al-Zawahiri was “studious and introverted as a boy,” and was described as “tender and soft-hearted” by his schoolteachers.[38] However, he was also a militant Islamist from a young age. After the 1966 hanging of Sayyid Qutb, al-Zawahiri formed an underground jihadist cell at the age of fifteen.[39] In 1974 he graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University. Al-Zawahiri had an office in the wealthy Cairo neighborhood, Maadi, where he practiced medicine prior to, and during, his involvement in Farraj’s al-Jihad.

Prepared by Sammy Salama and Joe-Ryan Bergoch
© James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies. January 2008.

[1] Al-Faridah al-Gha’ibah, translated by Johannes J.G. Jansen in Jansen, The Neglected Duty: The Creed of Saddat’s Assassins and Islamic Resurgence in the Middle East (New York: Macmillan, 1986), pp. 160-161.
[2] Ibid, 199.
[3] Ibid, 200.
[4] Ibid, 186.
[5] John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 45-46.
[6] Esposito, 60.
[7] See Nemat Guenena, The Jihad: An Islamic Alternative in Egypt. Cairo Papers in Social Science, American University in Cairo 9, 2 (Summer), 40-51; Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, “The Other Face of the Islamist Movement,” Working Papers, no. 33, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Democracy and Rule of Law Project (January 2003); Esposito, pp. 50-60.
[8] Esposito, 63. Johannes J.G. Jansen, The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 124.
[9] Jansen, The Neglected Duty, 192.
[10] See Muntasir al-Zayyat and Ibrahim M Abu-Rabi’, The Road to al-Qaeda: The Story of Bin Laden’s Right-Hand Man (London: Pluto Press, 2004), p. 20.
[11] These included a group founded by Yahya Hashem in 1975, one established in 1977 by Salem al-Rahal, and a tanzim formed in the mid-1960s by the Maadi surgeon, Ayman al-Zawahiri; see al-Sayyid. Until July 1981, however, al-Jihad was actually composed of two tanzims, under the leadership of Farraj and Salem al-Rahal. Salem was expelled from Egypt in July 1981, and leadership of his group passed to Kamal al-Sayed Habib. After being introduced to Farraj by Tarek al-Zumor, however, Habib decided to merge with Farraj’s organization later that summer; see Guenena, pp. 52-53.
[12] Guenena, 53.
[13] Ibid, 56.
[14] Ibid, 53.
[15] Guenena 52-74; David Zeidan, “Radical Islam in Egypt: A Comparison of Two Groups,” in Barry Rubin, ed., Revolutionaries and Reformers: Contemporary Islamist Movements in the Middle East (Albany: SUNY, 2003), pp. 11-23.
[16] Guenena, 58.
[17] Ibid, 45.
[18] Kepel, 210.
[19] Ibid, 210-212.
[20] Ibid, 213.
[21] Guenena, 73-74.
[22] Ibid., 2-3.
[23] Fawaz A. Gerges, The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 100.
[24] Al-Sayyid, 13.
[25] Zeidan, 18-19; Al-Zayyat, 29-31.
[26] Al-Zumor’s following was drastically reduced when his charismatic deputy, Esam Mateer, was arrested and deported to Jordan; see Al-Zayyat, p. 32.
[27] Gerges, 51.
[28] See Al-Sayyid, p. 60. These operations prompted Dr. al-Sayyid Imam, the amir of Tanzim al-Jihad, to resign in protest, with al-Zawahiri assuming formal leadership of the group; see Gerges, pp. 97-98.
[29] Al-Sayyid, 20; Al-Zayyat, 101.
[30] Ayman al-Zawahiri, Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner, translated by Laura Mansfield in Mansfield, His Own Words: A Translation of the Writings of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (USA: TLG Publications, 2006), p. 103. Al-Zayyat, 65.
[31] Mansfield, 102-105.
[32] Gerges, 129.
[33] Guenena, 54.
[34] One notable exception, however, was al-Jihad’s 1980 decision to deny membership to those who had been members of Ibrahim Salamah’s Alexandria-based ‘Jihad’ group that had been infiltrated by Egyptian authorities. Guenena, 64-65.
[35] Zeidan, 13; Kepel, 215-216.
[36] Guenena, 68-69.
[37] Ibid; Kepel, 210.
[38] Al-Zayyat, 16-18.
[39] Gerges, 91.

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