In a videotaped statement issued on August 5, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri announced what he described as a merger between members of Egyptian Gama’a al-Islamiyya (EIG, Egyptian Islamic Group), under the leadership of Muhammed Khalil al-Hakaima, and al-Qaeda. Muhammed Shawqi Islambouli, the younger brother of Khaled Islambouli—who is responsible for plotting and carrying out Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination—and Rifai Taha, another Egyptian linked to the plot, were also named. Al-Zawahiri’s claims elicited a sharp rebuke from EIG leaders, who initially claimed no knowledge of al-Hakaima. They later admitted that he could have been a low-ranking member of the group. It also prompted a public relations effort by EIG to distance themselves from al-Zawahiri’s claims that included interviews with Arab media and statements on the group’s website reiterating its commitment to its unilateral cease-fire with Cairo and decision to renounce all forms of violence (http://www.egyig.com; Terrorism Focus, September 12).
Little is known about Muhammed al-Hakaima (also known as Abu Jihad al-Masri). By his own accounts, he represents a faction of EIG that broke with the group over its decision to lay down its arms and reform its extremist agenda. Since its cease-fire, EIG has been highly critical of al-Qaeda. According to a recent report by the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, al-Hakaima was imprisoned for his role in Sadat’s assassination along with hundreds of others. After his release from jail, he is reported to have led the Islamic Group of Aswan, only to be arrested on other occasions for radical activities. He fled Egypt in 1988 for Afghanistan where he fought alongside other mujahideen against the Soviets (http://www.eicds.org, August 6). His present location remains unknown.
Al-Hakaima dubbed his organization al-Thabeton ala al-Ahad (those who stand firm for the covenant). The group’s name reflects its intention to rectify what it perceives as EIG’s retreat from its original mission (http://www.althabeton.co.nr). According to Dr. Hani al-Sibai, who heads the London-based al-Maqreze Center for Historical Studies, an organization linked to extremist Islam and who himself has been tied to the banned Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), al-Hakaima has a long history with EIG. Al-Sibai posted a statement by al-Hakaima directed at EIG’s leadership on his website dated August 1 that provides insight into his agenda. In reference to EIG’s cease-fire, al-Hakaima mentions that although some members may have agreed with the leadership’s decision to cease operations against the Egyptian government, “they did not agree to halt operations against the Jews and Crusaders occupying Muslim land.” He goes on to issue a series of demands to the EIG’s leadership, calling on them to “take a clear position on the Zionist-Crusader war launched by America and Israel against Muslims…to invite members of the community to protest for the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman…to cancel peace agreements and to open a path for the people to fight the Jews in Palestine, Lebanon and the Crusaders in Afghanistan and Iraq…and to rebuild the group’s military wing” (http://www.almaqreze.com).
In addition to frequent statements on his group’s website, al-Hakaima has penned two online books that deal with tactical and operational aspects of intelligence and warfare that have circulated on radical Islamist websites, including popular forums such as http://www.tajdeed.org.uk and http://www.almedad.com. The first, entitled “The Legend of an Illusion: Unveiling the Mask of American Intelligence,” deals with the history of the CIA’s activities in Egypt and the Middle East and the art of intelligence. It includes chapters on “Intelligence Scandals” and “Failed Assassination Attempts on Osama bin Laden.” One section, entitled “Discovering Spies,” provides detailed insights in how to identify foreign intelligence officers operating inside target countries and lists popular forms of cover. In addition, it covers tactics that intelligence officers use to recruit local assets, relying on American and regional sources. The book is made available at http://www.almaqreze.com.
In his latest book released in September, entitled “Towards a Better Strategy to Resist the Occupiers,” al-Hakaima provides another treatise on tactical and operational aspects of intelligence and warfare. In his introduction, he declares: “the angry Muslim nation is in dire need of a new guide.” Significantly, he states that the knowledge the book provides is not based on faith, but on experience. In one section, entitled “Your Guide to Individual Jihad,” al-Hakaima emphasizes the importance of training to perform operations such as targeted kidnappings and assassinations, as well as infiltrating enemy bases effectively by relying on the element of surprise and tools such as camouflage, stealth and self-discipline. In doing so, he looks to the example of Japanese ninjas and the ancient art of Ninjitsu, emphasizing the role ninjas played in espionage, assassinations and stealthy infiltration of secure facilities. He cites a detailed list of Ninjitsu training methods and techniques (http://www.althabeton.co.nr).
Al-Hakaima urges readers to seek out more information on Ninjitsu and related topics by accessing an Arabic-language website owned by a Saudi martial artist geared toward fellow martial artists at http://www.ninjaa.com. It is important to emphasize that the site does not have any political links and is strictly geared toward those with an interest in the martial arts.
At this point, it is difficult to gauge al-Hakaima’s influence on extremist currents in Egypt and elsewhere. On the surface, al-Zawahiri’s support for al-Hakaima clearly demonstrates an effort on the part of al-Qaeda to sow division between former extremists within EIG’s fold who have renounced violence and others who may disagree with the group’s reformist direction. Significantly, al-Hakaima’s efforts in engaging radical extremists through detailed publications focusing on the tactical, operational and strategic aspects of warfare, in addition to ideological and political tomes, places him alongside others who have made similar attempts, most notably Abu Musab al-Suri, who has done so to great effect. In doing so, al-Hakaima may be positioning himself for a more prominent role in the Global Salafi-Jihad in the months and years to come.