- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

CAIRO The country's most notorious prisoners appeared on the front page of a major weekly newspaper last week, raising questions about whether they might win an early release.
The photos of the six jailed leaders of the Gamma Islamiyah, or Islamic Group, convicted in 1981 for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, accompanied a 19-page interview with the men in the government-owned Al Musawwar on June 21.
U.S. officials have linked the six Islamic Group leaders with al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, and they are believed to have continued to direct the organization from their prison cells.
In the interview, however, the men condemned the September 11 terror attacks and the use of violence in general and apologized to the Egyptian people for their crimes.
The remarks were similar to those made two weeks earlier by one of the six, Islamic Group leader Karam Zohdy, in a jailhouse interview with The Washington Times.
That interview was the first he was permitted to give to a Western newspaper. The granting of the two interviews has strengthened speculation that the Egyptian government is planning to release the Islamic Group leaders and is testing public opinion in Egypt and Washington.
The Islamic Group was born on Egyptian university campuses in the 1970s. It was at once a vast network of social work stretching from Cairo's slums to the neglected provinces of Upper Egypt and a tenacious armed foe of the government. Several members of the jailed leadership were retried in the 1990s and given death sentences for purportedly ordering assassinations and attacks from their cells.
Now, however, the men have declared that killing civilians is forbidden by Islam.
"We strongly condemn the September 11 attacks because we understand that these attacks damage Islam and Muslims," Zohdy said in the latest interview.
"It is a very big step for them to declare this," Diaa Rashwan, a specialist on Islamic movements at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told United Press International. "It is very important."
The Islamic Group leaders' life sentences which in reality mean 20 years expired last year. It is not unusual for lifers jailed for serious crimes to be held in jail longer, but some local Islamists and London-based Arabic publications have hinted at a likely deal between the security forces and the prisoners.

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