Egypt ex-Special Forces officer calls for ‘holy war’ against al-Sisi

Friday 31/07/2015
Cairo crime scene following the Hisham Barakat assassination

LONDON - Former Special Forces officer turned Sinai terror chief Hisham el-Ashmawy has called for a “holy war” against the Egyptian gov­ernment of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Using the nom de guerre Abu Omar Al-Mujahir Al-Masri, Ashmawy called for “jihad” against the “new Pharaoh Sisi and his soldiers, who are waging war on Islam and killing our men and women and torturing our chil­dren”.
“All of you must come together to confront your enemy. Do not fear them, but fear Allah if you are truly believers,” Ashmawy said in a six-minute audio message released on July 22nd, the first issued by the former Special Forces officer.
Ashmawy, one of the most wanted men in Egypt, is the suspected mas­termind of the car bomb assassina­tion of prosecutor general Hisham Barakat on June 29th and a July 11th bombing outside Italy’s consulate in Cairo, which killed one person. Egyptian authorities also accuse Ashmawy of being behind the attempted assassination of then Interior Minister Mohammed Ibra­him in 2013.
Speaking following the death of Barakat, Sisi vowed “swift justice” and pledged to accelerate a crack­down against Islamic extremism in Egypt. Just weeks later, Sisi intro­duced stringent new counterterror­ism laws, expanding the definition of terrorism to include acts that “disturb public order and social peace” or “harm national unity and the national economy”.
Ashmawy had been a member of Egypt’s elite Sa’ka Forces unit before being discharged by the military in the late 2000s for Islamist views. Not much is publicly known about him, although reports indicate he was a founding member of the Islam­ist Egyptian Free Army in Libya in 2013. Given his Special Forces back­ground, he is likely well-trained in explosives, counter-surveillance techniques and close quarters com­bat, making him a dangerous and elusive foe.
But questions remain over Ash­mawy’s terror affiliation with some media outlets naming him emir of the Sinai-based al-Murabitoun ter­ror group, an al-Qaeda affiliate, and others, including the SITE intelli­gence group, saying he is a member of Sinai Province, formerly Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, an Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate.
Al-Murabitoun had been part of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis before it pledged allegiance to ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in November 2014, with the implication being that Ashmawy is in charge of a splinter group that remained loyal to al-Qaeda.
Ashmawy’s audio message, deliv­ered in Arabic on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, began with a video of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri calling on the Muslim community to come together to fight its enemies, giving credence to the view that he remains a member of al-Qaeda, not ISIS.
While al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates are squaring off in Syria, Egypt’s restive Sinai peninsula has not seen any direct battles between the two rival terror groups, although it is not known if they are coordinating with each other in attacks against the Egyptian state.
Former Islamic militant and expert on political Islam Nabil Na’im, said Ashmawy’s message could be an attempt to seek financing from abroad in order to help al-Murabitoun com­pete with its better financed ISIS rivals.
“You can see on social media a fight between ISIS supporters and al-Qaeda supporters over whether Ashmawy belongs to any of the groups. Since al-Qaeda supporters need to secure funds after ISIS became a more trending and successful jihadi brand, they are trying to promote the video to show they are still pro­gressing on the group.
“Ashmawy’s group is originally affiliated with al-Qaeda,” Na’im told Ahram Online.
Al-Murabitoun is known to include a number of former Egyptian mili­tary figures and the idea of an ex-military officer turned militant jihadist is a polarising one in Egyp­tian society, particularly given that former president Anwar Sadat was assassinated by just such a figure, Khalid Islambouli.