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Egypt's Muslim extremists: how deep are their roots?

Jihad, the secret Muslim extremist group said to have been responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat, appears to be more sophisticated and better organized than previously thought.

New information released here recently reveals that Jihad (holy war) -- a group dedicated to the overthrow of the Egyptian government and establishment of an Islamic state by force -- has learned from the mistakes of previous Muslim underground movements in Egypt. As a result, it apparently carries out sophisticated operations and has a strong organizational structure.

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A bill of indictment made public last week by Egypt's general prosecutor charged 302 defendants with belonging to Jihad. They are said to be the ringleaders and activist members of a much larger organization that Egyptian police sources say has as many as 1,225 members under arrest. Informed sources say that as many as 500 more Jihad members may have been arrested, which would bring the total to more than 1,700.

But some members of the group are known to be at large, and a recent attempted escape by two of the members, engineered with the help of accomplices, shows that elements of the group are still active.

The bill of indictment reveals a group with a highly developed organizational structure, with different committees for finance, ideology, training, recruiting , and an armed militia. Its membership includes members of the Air Force, military intelligence, Army central headquarters, and the Central Security Services, as well as one member of the presidential guard. One of the group's members was planted in the Merkaz Tadrib, or training center for young recruits.

More than half of the 302 defendants are students from at least eight Egyptian university campuses, or from technical and vocational training institutes. Others are schoolteachers, who were in a position to influence their students.

Other members are planted in strategically sensitive posts, such as key telephone exchanges, municipal services, and the broadcasting building. Jihad has members throughout the country and receives some of its funding from sympathizers abroad.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian sociologist at the American University in Cairo, has done research on two militant Islamic groups, Fanniyya Askariyya (military academy), and Takfir Wal Hijra (Repentance and Holy Flight), which in 1974 and 1977, respectively, committed violent acts against the regime. Comparing them with Jihad, Dr. Ibrahim notes a significant evolution in the strategy and tactics of the Jihad group.

''This (Jihad) organization has benefited from all the lessons of the previous groups,'' he maintains. ''They studied why the others failed in previous confrontations. . . . After every showdown with the government there is a sorting out of previous structures.''

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The military academy group, headed by Saleh Sarriyya, attacked the technical military academy in a suburb of Cairo in 1974 in a bloody attempted coup d'etat, but failed, in part because of timing. In 1977, Takfir Wal Hijra, founded by an agronomist named Shahkir Ahmed Mustapha, kidnapped and killed the minister of religious endowments, Sheikh Muhammed Dhahabi.

Of the two groups, Dr. Ibrahim says, Jihad bears more resemblance to the military academy group. Like them, Jihad conducted arduous training in the use of arms and explosives, infiltrated the Army and police, studied presidential and elite behavior and routines, constructed maps of important strategic sites, and prepared communiques to be aired on the radio.

Unlike the military academy group, however, Jihad decentralized more and had better planning. Its organizational structure is more sophisticated, with a greater division of labor. Apparently it also had better recruiting methods. Jihad is much larger than either of the previous two organizations.

During his research with the two earlier groups, Dr. Ibrahim discovered that both had extremely efficient intelligence services that communicated from inside the prisons to outside followers. The same is true, apparently, with Jihad.

In an extraordinary incident last week, two members of Jihad who were being treated in a government hospital under extremely heavy security were spirited out of the ward on stretchers, by accomplices. They were apprehended shortly after, but as a result of the incident, the minister of the interior has conducted a high-level shakeup and suspended Cairo's chief officer.

In the past, Dr. Ibrahim says, the police have managed to arrest no more than 30 to 40 percent of a group's membership.

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