A senior Islamic Jihad official declared tonight that only one of the eight people indicted in the United States on charges of terrorism -- Ramadan Abdullah Shallah -- is an active member of the organization.
In issuing the indictments, he said, the Bush administration is looking for scapegoats in its war on terrorism because it has been unable to track down Osama bin Laden, the fugitive leader of al Qaeda blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Khaled Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader from the Gaza Strip who has been involved in high-level negotiations aimed at unifying Palestinian factions, said in a telephone interview that his group "is a freedom movement defending Palestinians and defending itself and looking for liberation" from Israeli control.
"We didn't commit any actions against foreigners, especially Americans, and Americans should know that they are not a target of this jihad of the Palestinians," he added.
Headquartered in Damascus, the Syrian capital, Islamic Jihad is a radical organization formed in the 1970s that is dedicated to eradicating the state of Israel and creating a Palestinian state in its place. According to a manifesto published on its Web site, "Palestine -- from the river to the sea -- is an Islamic Arab land." The reference is to the Jordan River, the eastern boundary of Israel and the West Bank, and the Mediterranean Sea, which is Israel's western boundary.
"It is religiously forbidden to sacrifice any inch of it," the document reads. "It is religiously forbidden to recognize [Israel] on any part of it."
According to the manifesto, Islamic Jihad is committed to "liberating all of Palestine, liquidating the Zionist enemy and establishing the rule of Islam on the land of Palestine." Armed resistance is "the only solution for liberating Palestine," it says.
Islamic Jihad has a wide network of support in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but it is unclear how many members it has. Its radical and violent opposition to Israel has caused its popularity to surge, but that has prompted the Israeli army to crack down hard, and many of the group's members have been arrested or killed.
Islamic Jihad is one of four main Palestinian militant groups that have used suicide bombers and other violent attacks against Israeli citizens, troops and settlers during the 29-month uprising against Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The other groups are the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas; the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Islamic Jihad has asserted responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks, including one on Oct. 21 last year in which two men plowed a car into a crowded bus at the Karkur Junction, killing 14, and a similar June 5 car bombing attack on a bus at the Megiddo Junction that killed 16 Israelis.
In a December 1992 interview, the general secretary of the group, Fathi Shikaki, rejected negotiations with Israel "because it legitimizes the occupation of our land."
Shikaki was gunned down in the Mediterranean island of Malta in 1995, reportedly by an Israeli hit squad.