Egyptian Islamic Jihad

Egyptian Islamic Jihad

A profile of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a militant Islamist group that is fully merged with al-Qaeda.

May 29, 2008 2:38 pm (EST)

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Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a militant Islamist group which emerged in the 1970s, changed its focus in 2001. Originally bent on installing a religious government in Egypt, the group joined forces with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network that year and broadened its aims. Largely absorbed into al-Qaeda, EIJ opposes Western influence in the Muslim world, including Arab governments aligned with Washington, rails against secularism generally, and regularly denounces Israel, the United States, and governments supporting either. According to the 2007 State Department Country Reports on Terrorism, EIJ has been active worldwide "for several years under the auspices" of al-Qaeda. EIJ is thought to be involved with most of the terrorist attacks on the United States in the last two decades, and its operatives played a key role in both attacks on the World Trade Center.

What is Egyptian Islamic Jihad?

Historically, EIJ advocated for the overthrow of the secular Egyptian government. Since 1993, however, it has not carried out an attack within Egypt’s borders, the State Department reports. Formerly known as the Society of Struggle, EIJ was founde in the 1970s and conducted a number of attacks on high-level Egyptian officials, including the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. EIJ also has targeted Israeli and U.S. facilities in Egypt and in the wider region. Like Jamaat al-Islamiyya, some EIJ members were once members of the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, but broke with that group over its commitment to nonviolence. (The Brotherhood, for instance, denounced the Sadat assassination). Members of EIJ and Jamaat fought alongside the Afghan mujahadeen in the 1980s war opposing Soviet occupation, as well as in Yemen’s long-running civil war.

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Notable attacks orchestrated by the original EIJ include:

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  • the assassination of President Sadat in 1981;
  • the 1993 assassination attempts on Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Sedky and Interior Minister Hassan al-Alfi;
  • the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan;
  • a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1995;
  • a failed bombing scheme on the U.S. embassy in Albania in 1998.

Additionally, EIJ is suspected of conducting 1998 attacks on U.S. targets in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, though precise culpability has never been established.

The decline in domestic Egyptian attacks beginning in the 1990s was largely due to the Egyptian government, which killed many EIJ members and detained hundreds, according to the Jamestown Foundation. The terrorist attacks on tourist destinations that were conducted by Jamaat al-Islamiyya in the 1990s led to a significant decrease in national revenue and further contributed to dwindling public support for the militant Islamist movement. The State Department credits Egyptian counterterrorism efforts and frequent extremist crackdowns as instrumental in reducing domestic EIJ operations.

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Although there is no evidence that EIJ has wholly desisted its domestic campaign, the Australian National Security agency said in a 2007 report that the EIJ internal Islamist campaign was largely dormant, compared with its global operations as part of al-Qaeda.

What are the links between Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Jamaat al-Islamiyya?

Both Jamaat al-Islamiyya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad advocate the Muslim violent overthrow of the secular Egyptian government and the establishment of an Islamist state. Members from EIJ and Jamaat were known to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and in Yemen’s north-south civil war. The groups cooperated on the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and were targets of an Egyptian crackdown on Islamic militants. An internal split in Jamaat followed the crackdown, and after being released from prison, Jamaat’s Egyptian leadership apologized for the group’s involvement in the Sadat assassination, renounced violence, and denounced al-Qaeda and EIJ members who had joined forces with it.

How is Egyptian Islamic Jihad connected to al-Qaeda?

Experts say bin Laden’s terror network grew in part out of Egyptian extremist groups, and many of al-Qaeda’s leaders are Egyptians. Bin Laden brought two leaders of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the late Mohammad Atef, into the top echelons of al-Qaeda. Zawahiri and EIJ extremists joined with bin Laden as they became the targets of Egyptian anti-terrorism campaigns; other radical movements in Egypt began denouncing violence; and their need for additional funding grew, according to Jamestown. Members of EIJ are known for their militancy and specialty skills, such as weapons training and strategic military planning, according to the New York Times, making them ideal additions to the ranks of al-Qaeda. The EIJ received most of its funding from al-Qaeda beginning in 1998, and the groups merged in June 2001.

Many experts think that Atef and Zawahiri, who was jailed in Egypt for his part in President Sadat’s 1981 assassination, were the brains behind al-Qaeda’s deadliest terrorist operations, including the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (Atef was reportedly killed in a U.S. bombing raid in Afghanistan shortly after September 11).

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