About 135 Muslim extremists who spent more than a decade in Egyptian prisons have been released after signing statements renouncing violence, police said Monday.
The prisoners all belonged to al-Jihad, a group once headed by al-Qaida’s No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahri. Egypt began releasing them two weeks ago, police officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Al-Jihad and the al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya group were both were accused of participating in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat. Al-Zawahri was jailed for his involvement in the assassination, but was released in 1984. He left Egypt and helped form al-Qaida with Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s.
Neither al-Jihad or al-Gamaa have been involved in attacks in Egypt since the 1990s.
Al-Gamaa first proposed a unilateral cease-fire in 1997 that went into effect in 1999. Most of its leaders, as well as hundreds of its members, have since been freed from prison.
Al-Jihad has long opposed reconsidering its radical views. But a few months ago, the group’s jailed top ideologue, Sayed Imam Abdul-Aziz el-Sherif, led a review of al-Jihad’s ideology and concluded it should unequivocally renounce violence.
El-Sherif, 57, left Egypt in 1986 to go to Afghanistan. He later wound up in Yemen where he was arrested in 2001 and handed over to Egypt in 2004. He is serving a life sentence and was not one of the militants released.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of militants from al-Jihad and al-Gamaa are still believed to be in prison, along with members of smaller networks. Egypt has never disclosed an official figure of militants or political inmates in its prisons.