During several meetings with diplomatic officers at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, members of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Group) provided extensive details about the operations of one of Egypt's most notorious terrorist organizations.
Initiated by al-Gama'a, the meetings were aimed at creating a dialogue with the U.S. in the hopes of eventual, unspecified cooperation. The initiative was based on a perception that the U.S. enjoyed similar cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Less than four years after the approach, an al-Gama'a terror cell led personally by Abdel-Rahman bombed the World Trade Center in New York City.
THE APRIL 1989 MEETING
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Signed by U.S. ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, the cable is addressed to several other U.S. embassies and to U.S. intelligence services and military posts. It was classified as "secret."
Known as the "blind sheik," Rahman was considered the main spiritual guide for both al-Gama'a and al-Jihad, otherwise known as Egyptian Islamic Jihad. At the time of the meeting, Rahman was under detention in Egypt but was expected to be released shortly.
In meetings with embassy officials, the member said al-Gama'a and al-Jihad were, in fact, the same organization. Historically, the two groups have had overlapping membership and agendas. Today, they are considered separate organizations, and Al-Gama'a has renounced the use of violence.
The member estimated al-Gama'a membership as between 150,000 and 200,000, a figure which the embassy suspected was exaggerated.
The member said he was part of al-Gama'a Shura Council while he was in prison, between September 1981 and October 1988. He said his specialty was organizing protests and demonstrations. The member disputed government characterizations of al-Gama'a as "secret" and "violent" and disavowed attacks that had been attributed to the group.
The member provided printed material concerning Rahman and al-Gama'a beliefs and goals. He said the group found the government of Saudi Arabia to be "the best Islamic government today" but faulted Saudi King Fahd for failing to take a hard line against Iran.
However, the member said, Rahman met with an Iranian delegation in Pakistan during the autumn of 1988 and was "favorably impressed."
Rahman also traveled to the United States in 1988 to speak a conference, the member said. The "blind sheikh" traveled to the U.S. yearly, the member said, on trips supported by Saudi Arabia.