Gamaa Islamiya makes first appearance in 20 years

Leaders of Gamaa Islamiya (the Islamic Group) made their first appearance in 20 years in a Monday meeting at a mosque in Assiut, Upper Egypt.

At the meeting, the group declared the resumption of their preaching activities after the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, who resigned following two weeks of anti-regime protests that started on 25 January.

The group's most prominent leader, Assem Abdel Maged, declared that Gamaa Islamiya took part in and protected the revolt since its first day.

Gamaa Islamiya is one of Egypt's largest extremist organizations. It orchestrated armed attacks against the ruling regime during the nineties, but then formally renounced violence and reconsidered its excommunication rhetoric.

Abdel Maged said the group is not seeking to settle accounts with anyone, but stressed that the sucessor of the ousted preisdent should impose justice and ensure the group's right to preach and apply the Islamic sharia.

He also urged the group's members to strongly confront thugs, and said the group's consultancy council and leadership in other governorates will undergo a reshuffle.

Abdel Maged reassured Egypt's Copts–whose churches and businesses were targeted by the group during its campaign against the government–that "Islam protects Copts and ensures their rights," adding that "Copts must respect our religion."

"We are not seeking power, we were not invited to a dialogue with the deposed regime, we will not pursue anything if we are not asked to," he stressed.

Abdel Maged called for the release of jailed group members, and called upon the US to free their spiritual leader, Omar Abdel Rahman, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment in the States.

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