With fears still fresh that Egypt may become a radical Islamic state, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi released a group of radical Islamists who were imprisoned for militancy during Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, Reuters reports.
A total of 17 Islamists, through their attorney, say a pardon from Morsi resulted in their release from prison. Many of them had been imprisoned since the 1990s and at least three had been condemned to death, according to the lawyer, Ibrahim Ali. The 17 men released in the last few days include members of the radical Islamic group, al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, two of which are accused of killing a police officer and a third accused of killing another police officer in a separate incident.
Reuters could not reach a presidential spokesperson for comment but a security source said the men had been released on Morsi’s orders.
The Islamic Group was instrumental in the armed insurrection against the Egyptian government in the 1990s and Islamic jihad movement behind the 1981 assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
The group has also been an outspoken in advocating for the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, or “The Blind Sheikh,” currently serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
If you recall, the U.S. State Department has recently found themselves in hot water for inviting Hani Nour Eldin, also member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and an Egyptian politician, to meetings in the White House with senior Obama administration and State Department officials.
Some view the pardon as an effort by Morsi to satisfy hardline Islamists that helped him get elected after he promised to implement Islamic law. Still, there are Islamists that want him to go further with his newly found power and release more jailed terrorists.
Further, roughly 2,000 Islamists have been released from prison in 18 months since Mubarak was ousted as Egypt’s leader, according to Islamist lawyers. A number of them were released on the orders of the council of military generals that “steered the transition,” Reuters reports.
Among the men released from prison in Egypt over the past year and a half are high-profile figures like Abboud al-Zumar, known for supplying ammunition for the Sadat assassination. Mohamed al-Zawahri, brother of al Qaeda kingpin Ayman al-Zawahri, also walked free earlier in 2012 after spending nearly a decade in jail.
Reuters has more background on al-Gama’a al-Islamiya:
More than 1,000 people were killed between 1992 and 1997 in al-Gama’a al-Islamiya’s campaign against the state.
The violence culminated in the 1997 Luxor massacre carried out by a group of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya members who ignored a ceasefire declared by the group’s leaders. They killed 62 people, mostly foreign tourists, at a pharaonic temple. In 2003, the group published books renouncing violence.
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya has moved into the political mainstream since Mubarak was removed from power, setting up a political party, winning seats in parliamentary elections and later campaigning on Mursi’s behalf in the presidential vote.
Mursi had promised to work for the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the group’s spiritual leader who is serving a life sentence in the United States for planning attacks in New York.
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiya has called on Mursi to release the last few dozen Islamists still being held from the Mubarak era.
According to lawyers working for their release, Mursi had sought to secure freedom for all the Islamists still being held, but the security forces had blocked the move, signaling the resistance he is facing from unreformed security agencies.
“Those remaining must be released,” said Tareq al-Zumar, a senior member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya.
Egypt’s newly-elected president has yet to speak publicly about the pardon even though the radical Islamic al-Gama’a al-Islamiya group has publicly thanked him for the release of their members, who they say were innocent victims who suffered at the hands of Mubarak.
“Mursi is paying off a political debt,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst. ”This carries a message: that even those who were condemned to death can be released,” Abdel Fattah said.