CAIRO – 29 May 2019: Local media outlets lauded the “great capture” of the most wanted Egyptian terrorist Hisham Ashmawy, who was arrested in 2018 in Derna and handed over by the Libyan army to the General Intelligence Security (GIS) in Egypt on Tuesday.
The handing over of Hisham Ashmawy, the ex-military officer and the mastermind behind several high profile attacks in Egypt, was seen as a revenge for dozens of terror victims among army and police forces over the past years.
Army Colonel Hatem Saber, who is a lecturer of international terrorism and art of negotiating terrorists at Nasser Military Academy, said that the capture of Ashmawy witnessed the Egyptian intelligence cooperation with the Libyan side.
Saber, a former supervisor of the Egyptian military special unites, told Egypt Today in a phone call Wednesday that Ashmawy’s capture “sends a strong message to the world and the international terrorist groups that whoever conspires against Egypt will meet the same fate.”
“Ashmawy is a leader of a terror group, which makes him an intermediary between external financing entities and his group,” said Saber, adding that Ashmawy can lead Egypt to target and reach such terror-financing entities inside and outside the country.
Hisham Ashmawy seated inside military jet carrying him from Libya to Egypt - Press photo
Egyptian Intelligence Chief Abbas Kamel paid a short visit Tuesday to Libya, where he met with Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
The media office of the Libyan National Army said the transfer of Ashmawy came within the framework of the counter-terrorism operations in North Africa, and as part of the concerted cooperation with Egypt.
In October 2018, Ashmawy was arrested in Libya’s Derna, where he was kept in custody pending investigations over attacks he launched in the North African state.
Before he was apprehended in Derna, Ashmawy joined several terror groups. He led Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis in North Sinai, joined al-Qaeda in Libya and al-Qaeda-aligned militant group al-Mourabitoun, and had links with al-Qaeda in Tunisia and Algeria.
In December 2017, Ashmawy was sentenced to death in absentia along with 10 others in “Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis 3” case over leading 17 attacks, including the 2014 attack at Farafra desert checkpoint in Nile Valley that killed at least 22 border guards.
He is accused of orchestrating the assassination of Top Prosecutor Hisham Barakat in 2015. He also became associated with other militant groups like Jund al-Islam and Ansar al-Islam; the latter claimed responsibility for the attack at a police ambush in Egypt’s Western Desert killing 16 soldiers in 2017.
Some private television channels cut the broadcast of Ramadan series, and showed live footage of the landing of the military aircraft carrying Ashmawy in Cairo. The channels used the hashtag #هي_دي_مصر_يا_هشام that translates to “This is Egypt, Hisham,” in a tribute of appreciation to Egypt’s army role in combating terrorism at home and beyond borders.
On his official Facebook account, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi praised and congratulated the Egyptian Army men on Wednesday following the transfer of the terrorist to Egypt from Libya, describing them as “hawks” and “heroes” who swore to protect their country.
Along with Ashmawy, another detainee identified as Bahaa Ali Abdel Moa’ti was handed-over. The capture of Ashmawy is believed to be a major security achievement as he is an important source of information on terror groups, hence considered a slap to international terrorist organizations.
Some described Ashmawy’s capture as no less important than the killing of al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden, with some media outlets calling him “Egypt’s Bin Laden,” while religious clerics said that both Ashmawy and Bin Laden are similar in their ignorance about religion.
Egypt’s most wanted terrorist Hesham Ashmawy after being arrested in Derna, Libya on October 8 - screenshot of extra news channel/YouTube
Egypt has entered a prolonged fight against terrorism, as Sinai insurgency escalated since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, leaving dozens of military and police forces killed in terror attacks. In return, the army has claimed the lives of dozens of terrorist elements, foiled attempted attacks, and destroyed smuggling tunnels and hotbeds.
The Comprehensive Operation − Sinai 2018, is a large counter-terrorism campaign conducted by the Egyptian Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry. It was launched in 2018, focusing on northern and central Sinai and parts of the Nile Delta.
From military to militancy
Born in 1978 in Giza, Ashmawy or Abu Omar al-Muhajir, 41, is a former officer in the Egyptian Commandos as a member of Sa‘ka Forces or Thunderbolt Forces.
He was transferred to an administrative post in 2007 after a change in his behavior as he promoted for political Islam through spreading banned books. He was suspended from the army in 2009 after he stood a military trial; then he traveled to Syria via Turkey.
In 2013, Ashmawy moved to Sinai where he became in charge of the military wing of Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. He started to develop the performance of the group and improve their militancy skills.
Following the June 30 Uprising, he was accused of failed assassination of former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, and the killing of a colonel and brigadier general during a firefight in the Qaliubiya village of Arab Sharkas.
Defected from Islamic State (IS) terror group, Ashmawy went to Derna, 250 km far from Egypt’s western borders, where he announced in a voice recording his leadership of the al-Qaeda-aligned militant group al-Mourabitoun in the Islamic Maghreb.
Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis announced in November 2014 its allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), Ashmawy refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS.
Additional reporting by Mohamed Abdel Maguid