The Jihad Which Manifested Inside Egyptian Prison Walls

Adam Fitzgerald
7 min readNov 10, 2019


“The basis of the existence of imperialism in the lands of Islam is these self-same rulers. To begin with the struggle against imperialism is a work which is neither glorious nor useful, and it is only a waste of time. It is our duty to concentrate on our Islamic cause, and that is the establishment first of all of God’s law in our own country and causing the world of God to prevail. There is no doubt that the first battlefield of the jihad is the extirpation of these infidel leaderships and their replacement by a perfect Islamic order, and from this will come the release of our energies.”

— Muhammad abd-al-Salam Faraj (At his trial for involvement in Anwar Sadat’s assassination 1981)

The Mabahith Amn El Dawla, or in the English, State Security Investigative Services (SSI) commanded hundreds of its officers and investigators to immediately arrest members of Egypt’s most radical Islamic sects, the most arrests came from two groups…. Tanzim al-Jihad and Gamaa al-Islāmiyya. The leaders of both groups, Muhammad abd-al-Salam Faraj (Al-Jihad), Essam al-Qamari (Al-Jihad) and Omar Abdel Rahman (al-Islamiyya). Some of these arrests came at other’s physical and mental torture sessions. On October 15th 1981, Egyptian doctor and member of the Tanzim al-Jihad and Muslim Brotherhood, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was brought before the more brutish officers, with a lone interviewer ashen with the past year’s events that plagued Cairo and the Southern districts of Egypt with Islamist violence.

The SSI had reason to interrogate al-Zawahiri, hey discovered after arresting him that he was in contact with a number of officers from the Egyptian Armed Forces…one of his contacts was with Essam al-Qamari, a decorated tank commander and Major in the Egyptian army. al-Qamari, it was found out was a one time disciple of the late Egyptian scholar and militant, Sayyid Qutb….al-Qamari also smuggled weapons and ammunition from army strongholds for al-Jihad. The battered doctor with held many of the vigorous torture sessions, which would last 20 minutes one day, 2 hours the next. Nevertheless under pain of death, al-Zawahiri finally broke….he agreed to lead the SSI to the whereabouts of al-Qamari, and he would be forced to meet him at a designated place where al-Qamari prayed where he was arrested during salaat.

Two days after Sadat’s assassination, members of Tanzim al-Jihad had began an insurrection in Upper Egypt. Rebels took control of the city for a few days before paratroopers from Cairo intervened and took control of the district in which 68 policemen and soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Immediately after the arrest, Egyptian authorities arrested, en masse, hundreds of others who were suspected of being members of Al-Jihad. The crackdown of those within the religious sector in Egypt were ordered by Egypt's new president, Hosni Mubarak, who was injured in Sadat’s assassination. The main antagonist and planner of Sadat’s assassination was arrested in these crackdowns, Khalid Islambouli. Islambouli was a captain in the Egyptian Army as well as Staff Officer-III in a Brigade HQ. Meanwhile, al-Zawahiri was taken from the Tora Prison to the Higher Military Court to give testimony against other jihādi members from the army . Under these conditions, he admitted that they formed a movement inside the army to topple the regime and institute an Islamic government. During questioning made from the Higher State Security, al-Zawahiri made the following statement:

“…after assassinating the president of the republic (Sadat) and delivering a statement on the radio. Abbud al-Zomor also gave some explosives on October 12, 1981 to hold on to . My relationship with Zomor started after the assassination on October 6, 1981 , when I visited him at 10 o’clock p.m. In the apartment in Harami where he was hiding. I went there with Assem al-Domeiri and Sayyid Imām ‘ Abdel ‘ Azeez in the latter’s car. ‘ Abdel ‘ Azeez and I stayed in the car, while Domeiri went to his apartment and brought him to meet us. I had a discussion with Zomor on two issues. First, I told him that the assassination was enough and that he should not develop it into a full — scale battle with the government. Second, I asked him if he knew a major at the army called ‘ Essam al-Qamari and whether an officer called Gamāl Rasheed was one of the people who implemented the assassination.”

Islambouli, the lead assassin, told members of the court his reason for Sadat’s assassination was quite simple. The Egyptian government was to be replaced with an Islamic rule of law. A governing body led by an ulema, a body of Muslim scholars led by Shariah law. Muhammad abd-al-Salam Faraj was another leading figure in Sadat’s assassination. When the SSI searched his home, they found many incriminating items, which included a document titled Al-Farida al-gha’iba (The Neglected Duty) in which Faraj wrote himself. The work showed the evolution of radical Islamist ideas since Qutb’s Islamist manifesto Milestones. While Qutb felt that jihad was a proclamation of “liberation for humanity”, Faraj maintained with absolute certainty that jihad would enable Muslims to rule the world and to reestablish the caliphate. Faraj showed no hesitation when asked about Sadat’s assassination, he recalled it was a “spiritual duty” to assassinate him, not for his stance with Israel and the West. Simply it was to institute Egypt as a nation governed by Islamic Law.

The trial saw international attention, in Tora prison, Ayman al-Zawahiri was designated the “de facto” authoritarian to speak on behalf of the group. al-Zawahiri can be seen proclaiming loudly the treatment of the jailed suspects and asked the media to investigate why the secular authorities were torturing and arresting family members of the detainees all whom were religious Muslims. In one instance al-Zawahiri would declare loudly behind the prison cages located in the courtroom with dozens of cameras all pointing in his direction:

‘ Who are we?! Who are we?! We are Muslims! We are Muslims who believe in their religion! We are Muslims who believe in their religion, both in ideology and practice, and hence we tried our best to establish an Islamic state and an Islamic society!”

Meanwhile many of those arrested began to speak in hushed tones about the leadership of Gamma Islamiyya, whether the more respected Refai Taha should lead, or Omar Abdel Rahman. Some had thought that due to Rahman’s disability, blindness, he should not lead the group. One of the strongest opponents of Abdel Rahmān’s leadership was Essam al-Qamari, followed by al-Zawahiri as well as others. Taha would later state to his closest confidants in the prison that al-Zawahiri was fanning the fire of dissension by encouraging Essam al-Qamari to argue against ‘ Abdel Rahmān’s leadership. However the toll of the torture in which al-Zawahiri suffered as well as his most heavily weighted crime, informing on his close friend Essam al-Qamari left the venerable doctor with a sense of quenching revenge.

The trial ended and on April 15th 1982. Faraj , Islambouli and 3 other suspects were executed by hanging. Omar Abdel Rahman, who did not have excess torture due to his blindness was released and expelled from Egypt in 1984. Rahman would lead members of the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn , New York which was behind the 1993 WTC Bombing and for being involved in the Landmarks Plot, which did not materialize. Ayman al-Zawahiri was released from Tora prison in 1984. al-Zawahiri would still have theological differences between himself and Rahman. al-Zawahiri had other plans, he would relocate to Peshawar, Pakistan…there he would meet with a notable theologian, Abdullah Azzam.

Both men would create an operational center for Mujahid who would come worldwide for their fight against the Soviets, in the same year al-Zawahiri would come into contact with a young, eager Saudi, Osama Bin Laden. Other Egyptian militants who were expelled began to relocate with al-Zawahiri, it was here this faction would be renamed, Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ).

One of those who joined the doctor in the EIJ was Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, nicknamed Dr. Fadl. al-Sharif was one of al-Zawahiri’s oldest and most entrusted associates dating back to the 1970’s. al-Sharif would become one of the primary instigators to “Islamic militancy” and would write a book al-’Umda fi I’dad al-’Udda (“The Essentials of Making Ready [for Jihad]”), which was used as a jihad manual in al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Azzam and al-Zawahiri would have disparaging and often heated arguments regarding how the funding of the Maktab al-Khidamat office funds would be dispensed after the war would end.

The leaders of EIJ, especially Zawahiri, wanted to use their well-trained warriors to overthrow the Egyptian government. Azzam longed to turn the attention of the Arab mujaheddin to Palestine. The division of goals separated the two men from each other. However al-Sharif agreed with the EIJ and al-Zawahiri, the jihad should continue on, only this time not in Egypt (as al-Zawahiri wished) but against the Americans. In 1989, with the war ending with the Soviets retreating, Azzam and his son, would be assassinated by a car bomb. No one was ever arrested for his murder. The following years which proceeded the Soviet-Afghan War would begin the “revenge” Ayman al-Zawahiri once stated to Faraj in Tora Prison would begin….In 1998, the World Islamic Front for which al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden were headed members of declared their intention for the West.

“ We issue the following fatwa to all Muslims:

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, “and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,” and “fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.”



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.