CAIRO, Egypt -- The most powerful group of Muslim militants here has vowed to strike back at U.S. targets in revenge for the life sentence that was handed down against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in New York last week.
"The Americans have chosen war with Islam," the Islamic Group said in a faxed statement yesterday. "The Gamaa al-Islamiya announces its vow to God that it will respond blow for blow. American interests and people will be legitimate targets."
Abdel Rahman, a 57-year-old militant Egyptian cleric who is the organization's spiritual leader, was sentenced by a federal judge along with nine followers after being convicted of plotting terrorist attacks on New York City landmarks and the assassination of political leaders, including President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
The Egyptian government has maintained a public silence since the sentencing, signaling its satisfaction that Abdel Rahman, who has long advocated the overthrow of the secular government, now appears destined to spend the rest of his life in prison. The other defendants were sentenced to terms ranging up to 57 years.
The Islamic Group began its violent campaign against the authorities here four years ago, and it used its statement yesterday to accuse the Egyptian government of "fighting Islam on its land as a deputy for the Americans, in an alliance with the infidels which was clear to all those with eyes.
"The American government has now chosen to lead the battle itself after it was convinced that its allies were unable to continue," the group said in the statement, its first reaction to the sentencing on Wednesday in federal district court in New York City.
The group has killed scores of Egyptian policemen and civilians as well as several foreign tourists in its bid to topple the government and install an Islamic state. It has also claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in Pakistan last year that killed 16 people and wounded 60 at the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad.
In recent months, the organization has repeated warnings that foreigners should leave Egypt or risk becoming targets. But in the face of a harsh crackdown, the group has been limited in staging operations beyond a 100-mile area in southern Egypt.
Embassies here advise their citizens to take precautions while in Egypt, but none has recommended that foreigners leave the country or that tourists postpone visits. But since Abdel Rahman was sentenced, the American authorities have tightened security most airports in the United States as a protective measure against possible revenge attacks.