The 1990s witnessed two similar phenomena: the “Albania Returnees” and the “Afghanistan Returnees”.
Both groups included Jamaa’a Islamiya and Jihad Group leaders and members who fled Egypt following the assassination of the late president Anwar Sadat on October 6, 1981.
As a case, the “Afghanistan Returnees” was examined by civilian courts until 1992. Then, it was referred to a military court that looked into it until 2012. The defendants were released in November 2012, even as some of them were handed life-in-prison sentences and others death sentences. Some of those defendants included members of the military wing of Jamaa’s Islamiya.
Several members of Jamaa’a Islamiya left Egypt after Sadat’s assassination. They travelled to Afghanistan where they joined mujahedeen fighting the Soviet occupation of the country, which started in 1979 and ended in 1992.
Most of those radicals returned to Egypt during the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak. They planned to start armed struggle against Mubarak’s regime. Hardened by years of fighting in Afghanistan, these fighters returned to Egypt to put to practice the military skill they acquired in battles against the Soviets.
Jamaa’a Islamiya founded its own branch in Afghanistan. It called it the “Camp of the Caliphate”. This branch was led by Egyptian radicals, Mustafa Hamza, Refai Taha and Ali Abdel Fattah. The three of them were killed in battles in Pakistan.
Those who returned from Afghanistan carried out several terrorist operations in Egypt, including an attempt on the life of former interior minister Zaki Badr in 1989, the assassination of former parliament speaker Rifaat al-Mahgoub in 1990, and attempts on the lives of former interior minister Hasan al-Alfi and former information minister Safwat al-Sherif in 1993. They also tried to assassinate Mubarak himself in 1995 and bombed the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan.
The returnees included some heavy-weight radicals, such as Osman Khaled Ibrahim, a senior Jamaa’a Islamiya military wing member, Mustafa Hamza, the leader of the military wing of Jamaa’a Islamiya, and Ref’ai Ahmed Taha, a member of the organization’s Consultative Council and the contact point between the organization and other militant organizations outside Egypt.
Most of the aforementioned people were sentenced to life in prison in absentia. The lives of others ended tragically. Ahmed Taha, for example, was killed in Syria in 2016. Mohamed Shawqi Islambouli, a brother of Sadat’s main assassin Khaled Islamboul, fled to Turkey where he lives until now.
The remaining members of the group were released from prison after the January 25, 2011 revolution. However, some of them are still tried before Egyptian courts.
Mustafa Hamza was sentenced to death three times on charges of masterminding attempts on the lives of Mubarak and al-Sherif in 1995.
Hamza was released from prison after the January 25, 2011 revolution. The veteran radical did not waste time. Soon after getting out of jail, he turned to politics by co-founding the Construction and Development Party. Hamza took part in the Raba’a al-Adawiya sit-in in support of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi after he was ousted. He was arrested in 2013 and charged with inciting violence.
Ref’ai Ahmed Taha was born in 1953. He graduated from the College of Commerce at the University of Assuit. He saw radical Islamist groups taking root and growing on southern Egypt’s university campuses.
Taha was a founder of Jamaa’a Islamiya in the 1970s. He was notorious for trying to break the fence of the university to help Jamaa’a Islamiya students enter and get out of the camps easily.
Taha, security sources said, participated in violence that erupted in Assuit following Sadat’s assassination.
Taha was sentenced to seven years in jail. He spent five years only before fleeing as he was accompanied by prison guards to sit an exam. He jumped off the train taking him to the place of the exam. Nonetheless, he was injured and suffered a lasting disability as a result.
Taha was not enthusiastic about participating in politics like Hamza was. He opposed the founding of the Construction and Development Party. He did not participate in the pro-Morsi sit-in either.
Taha left Egypt to Sudan and then travelled to Syria where he joined militant groups fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He had contacts within al-Qaeda-affiliated groups active in Syria.
Taha preferred not to talk about Daesh when it popped up in Iraq, which went hand in hand with Jamaa’a Islamiya’s line on new Islamist groups. He was killed in an airstrike by the United States-led international coalition against Daesh in Syria in 2016. Before his death, Taha tried to unite Islamist groups fighting in the Arab country.
Osman al-Samman, 60, is another Jamaa’a Islamiya leader who preferred to retire after his release from prison. He was accused of participating in Sadat’s assassination. He spent five years in jail before fleeing to Yemen. He was then arrested in the Arab country and deported to Egypt where he was sentenced to three years in jail.
Al-Samman cut off his ties with Jamaa’a Islamiya. He did not participate in any pro-Morsi sit-ins.