The organization's original primary goal was to overthrow the Egyptian Government and replace it with an Islamic state. Later it broadened its aims to include attacking the United States and Israel interests in Egypt and abroad.
EIJ has suffered setbacks as a result of numerous arrests of operatives worldwide, most recently in Lebanon and Yemen. In June 2001, Al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which had been associated with each other for many years, merged into "Qaeda al-Jihad."
Farj used to deliver Friday sermons in a private mosque that had been built by his in-laws. During the ensuing discussions with his listeners, he managed to convince some to join in a clandestine organization to eventually wage violent jihad. ... The Cairo branch was composed of five or six groups, loosely connected and each with its own emir (one of whom was Ayman al-Zawahiri). They had autonomy but met weekly to work out a general strategy. ..."In October 6, 1981 it carried out the assassination of Anwar Sadat.
After the assassination, the Egyptian government succeeded in rounding up the membership of Tanzim al-Jihad, but "was rather lenient in the ensuing trial. Only the four direct perpetrators and the Cairo leader Faraj, were condemned to death." In prison, the Cairenes and Saidis reverted into two faction, the Cairo militants later becoming the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and the Saidis later forming the al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, or Egyptian Islamic Group.
The leader of the Cairo militants was Abud Zumour, "a onetime army intelligence officer serving a life sentence for his part in the plot to kill Sadat." This faction, the Islamic Jihad, "was small and tightly disciplined. ... Among it members was a 30-year-old Cairo physician named Ayman Zawahiri ...
It was also at this time that some saw "the Egyptians" of the EIJ begin to exert an influence on Osama bin Laden, who at the time was known as a wealthy and well-connected fundraiser for the jihad in Afghanistan. Egyptian filmmaker Essam Deraz, "bin Laden's first biographer," met bin Laden in the "Lion's Den" training camp in Afghanistan and complained that the Egyptians "formed a barrier" around bin Laden and "whenever he tried to speak confidentially to bin Laden, the Egyptians would surround the Saudi and drag him into another room. One of those who complained of being elbowed aside was a former mentor of bin Laden Abdullah Azzam, the original exponent and organizer of global jihad on behalf of the Afghan mujahideen.
In 1991, EIJ broke with al-Zumur and al-Zawahiri took control of the leadership. At this point, Marc Sageman (a former foreign service officer who was based in Islamabad from 1987 to 1989), says "the EIJ became a free-floating network without any real ties to its original society or to its surrounding society."
In August 1993 Al-Jihad attempted to kill the Egyptian Interior Minister, Hasan al-Alfi. who was leading a crackdown on Islamic militants and their terror campaign. A bomb-laden motorcycle exploded next to the minister's car, killing the bomber and his accomplice," but not the minister. The attacked marked the first time Sunni Islamists had made use of suicide in terrorism, a technique made famous by Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is "likely that the notion of suicide bombing" was inspired by Hezbollah as EIJ head Ayman Zawahir had been to Iran to raise money, and had sent his talented underling Ali Mohamed, "among others, to Lebanon to train with Hezbollah".
A few months later in November Al-Jihad made another bombing attempted, this time to kill Egypt's prime minister, Atef Sidqi. The car bomb exploded close to a girls' school in Cairo as the minister was driven past. The minister, protected by his armored car, was unhurt, but the explosion injured 21 people and killed a young schoolgirl, Shayma Abdel-Halim. Unfortunately for al-Jihad this bombing was preceded by two years of terror by a larger terror group, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya that had killed 240, and the patience of the Egyptian public had run short. "Little Shayma's death captured people's emotions as nothing else had" and "when her coffin was borne through the streets of Cairo, people cried, `Terrorism is the enemy of God!`" A harsh police crackdown followed and 280 EIJ member were arrested, with 6 eventually given a death sentence.
EIJ's longtime association with al-Qaeda became closer at this time when "most" of its members were reported to have gone "on the al-Qaeda payroll." EIJ leader hoped this would be a temporary measure but later confided to one of this chief assistants that joining with bin Laden had been `the only solution to keeping the Jihad organization abroad alive.`
Their hope was to decapitate the Egyptian government thereby eliminating the "iron grip" of the state security services, and creating a power vacuum which Islamists could then fill. Unfortunately for this plan, the attack was foiled by a malfunctioning grenade launcher and Mubarak’s bulletproof limousine.
When the Sudanese found out about the executions in its jurisdiction, al-Zawahiri and the rest of EIJ were ordered to leave the Sudan. It was a devastating blow to the group. "In Zawahiri's hands, al-Jihad had splintered into angry and homeless gangs."
Bin Laden was also weakened by this failed operation. The core of his al-Qaeda group was made up of members of Islamic Jihad. Because of Sudan's collaboration in the plot, the United Nations voted to impose sanction on the country. To rehabilitate itself in the international community, the Sudanese government pressured bin Laden to leave the country. Bin Laden and many EIJ returned to war torn Afghanistan having lost many members and almost all of bin Laden's assets.
The November 19, 1995 bombing of the Egpyptian embassy in Islamabad served as a prototype for future attacks by its sister organization al-Qaeda, such as the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Africa.
In Afghanistan Zawahiri wrote the 1998 fatwa for the "International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," calling for the killing of Americans and their allies, both civilian and military, which was signed by representatives of several jihadi organizations, including EIJ.
Dissent among EIJ members to this change of direction and abandonment of the taking over Egypt as the group's primary goal, was so strong that "in the end, Zawahiri pledged to resign if the members failed to endorse his actions. The organization was in such disarray because of arrests and defections, and so close to bankruptcy, that the only choice was to follow Zawahiri or abandon al-Jihad." One of those who did abandon al-Jihad was Zawahiri's own brother Muhammed, the military commander of EIJ.
Consequently it often considered synonymous with Al-Qaeda, (for example by the U.S. Treasury Department), although some refer to it as a separate organization with al-Zawahiri as its leader and global jihad's main ideologist.
Although al-Zawahri is frequently referred to as a 'lieutenant' or 'second in command' of Al Qaeda this description is misleading as it implies a hierarchical relationship. The modern Al Qaeda organization is the combination of Bin Laden's financial resources with al-Zawahri's ideological and operational leadership. Despite the effective merger of al-Zawahri and Bin Laden's groups in the Afghanistan area of operations there is evidence that suggests that at least part of the Islamic Jihad group continuing to operate in Egypt remains independent of Bin Laden's organization and reports to al-Zawahri personally.
Iraq March 1993 agreed to renew relations with the Islamic Jihad Organization in Egypt.