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State probes U.S. visit by Egyptian tied to terrorist group

The State Department is investigating how a member of a group designated by the U.S. government as a "foreign terrorist organization" received a visa to come to the United States and this week had meetings with high-level U.S. officials.

Hani Nour Eldin, a member of Egypt's parliament elected after the popular protests that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, was also a self-proclaimed member of Gama'a al-Islamiya, blamed for a spate of violence in Egypt in the 1990s, according to a report by the Daily Beast.  

Eldin held meetings at both the White House and the State Department as part of a delegation of Egyptian lawmakers, and confirmed in an interview that he was a member of Gama'a which the United States listed as a terror organization in 1997.

The delegation met with "a number of folks around town" including Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and Under Secretary of Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Robert Hormats, according to State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.

"I'm not going to say what may result," Nuland said when asked about his status in the country. She would only say that the department is reviewing how Eldin was issued a visa.

The delegation's meeting at the State Department focused on transfer to civilian rule, protection of human rights and democracy in Egypt, Nuland said.

The State Department says the members of the delegation were invited by the Wilson Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C. The Wilson Center has not returned a request for a comment.

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Gama'a was once Egypt's largest militant group but by 2010, it was described as a "loosely organized network," according to a 2010 State Department report. The report says the group's primary goal was to replace the Egyptian government with an Islamic State.

Sheik Umar Abd al-Rahman, considered spiritual leader of Gama'a, is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the government report says.

Eldin, who told the Daily Beast he was not a terrorist but a legitimately elected member of parliament, said he had requested that al-Rahman be transferred to an Egyptian prison, but that U.S. officials had denied the request.

But the group issued a ceasefire in the late 1990s, and in 2003 the group formally renounced violence, and hundreds of its members were then released from jail.

Following Mubarak's overthrow in 2011, Gama'a al-Islamiya established the Building and Development Party, and took part in the parliamentary elections as part of a bloc of Islamist parties.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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