Conflict

Al-Qaeda linked militant Hisham Ashmawy comes under Egypt custody

North Africa

Hisham Ashmawi has been on the Egyptian authorities' radar over a number of deadly terrorist attacks in the country in recent years. After coordinating several more attacks in Egypt whilst hiding in Libya, he has been transferred by Libya back to Cairo for interrogation following his arrest in October last year.

For the last five years, Hisham Ashmawi had been the most wanted man in Egypt in connection with two major terrorist attacks in Farafra and al-Ruhat, of which he was believed to be the orchestrator.

The 2014 Farafra ambush at a desert checkpoint in Egypt’s New Valley killed 28 army officers and soldiers. The perpetrators of the attack were believed to be smugglers being paid by militant allies in Egypt to ship them weapons from Libya in the aftermath of the 2011 overthrowing of Muammar Gaddafi.

In addition to the incident in al-Ruhat which left 16 Egyptians dead, Ashmawi is the main suspect in 17 terrorist attacks in Egypt over the last five years, and had been sentenced to death in absentia in December for his role in the Farafra ambush.

43-year-old Ashmawi, who changed his name to Abu Omar al-Muhajir, was born in Cairo. In 2009 he was dismissed from his service role with the Egyptian army after it emerged that he had been engaging with extremist ideology material.

Egyptian authorities claim that Ashmawi headed the Al Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Islam, which is accused of an assassination attempt on a former interior minister in 2013.

Ashmawi later escaped to Libya, where he was able to establish a safe haven from which to create and co-operate with several terrorist groups until his arrest in the coastal city of Derna in October 2018.

Today, people in Egypt have publicly rejoiced at the news of his extradition to Egypt for trial. “This does not happen every day,” one citizen told reporters.

Others interviewed believe that Ashmawi’s extradition consolidates Egypt’s political leverage in the region, claiming that the news is evidence of the country’s good relations with its Arab neighbours, including with the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar.

Egyptians are highly anticipating the outcome of interrogation following what appears to have been a security coordination effort between the Egyptian authorities and the LNA to bring him back to Egypt.