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Militants deny joining al Qaeda

Egyptian group rejects claims from al-Zawahiri

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(CNN) -- An Egyptian militant group vigorously denied weekend assertions by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's second-in-command, that the group's members had joined the ranks of the terrorist network.

In a statement posted on the Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya Web site Sunday, the group said "it absolutely rejects the claims in its entirety," calling them untrue.

Al-Zawahiri appeared in a videotaped message Saturday on the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera.

He announced "good news to the Muslim nation about a big faction of the knights of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya uniting with al Qaeda." The union will "bring together the powers of the Muslim nation as one rank in the face of its enemies in the fiercest battle declared against the Muslim nation in its history."

The Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya statement went to great lengths to distance itself from al Qaeda.

"The Jamaa Islamiya in Egypt stresses that what Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri said on Al Jazeera in relation to that Al-Jamaa has joined Al Qaeda is not true, and it absolutely rejects the claims in its entirety," the statement said.

"Regarding what was mentioned in Dr. Ayman's claim about some of Al-Jamaa leadership's names, alluding that it has joined Al Qaeda, contradicts reality."

It was unclear how many members of the Egyptian group had agreed to join al Qaeda.

According to the Web site trackingthethreat.com, which describes itself as "a database of open-source information about the al Qaeda terrorist network," Al-Jamaa Islamiya emerged during the 1970s, forming in Egyptian jails and later in some Egyptian universities.

The Daily Star Egypt reported in April that members of the organization are thought to have carried out the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and are believed to be responsible for terror attacks throughout the 1990s, including an attack against tourists in Luxor in 1997. That attack left 71 dead, CNN reported at the time.

In 1998, the group renounced violence after a wave of attacks that killed about 1,300 people, Al-Jazeera reported.

In September 2003, Egypt freed more than 1,000 members of the group because of its "commitment to rejecting violence," then-Interior Minister Habib el-Adli told Al-Jazeera at the time. Among those released was the group's leader, Karam Zuhdi, who expressed regret for conspiring with Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Sadat's assassination, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

More than 900 additional members of Al-Jamaa Islamiya were released in April of this year, according to Al-Jazeera.

Al-Zawahiri is the founder of present-day Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He worked in the 1970s to overthrow Sadat, and in 1981 was jailed on conspiracy charges in his assassination. Al-Zawahiri was later acquitted.

CNN's Octavia Nasr contributed to this report.

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