Extradited militant may provide intelligence trove for Egypt

Egyptian authorities will be especially interested learning from Ashmawy how arms are smuggled from Libya into the Western Desert and Sinai.
Sunday 02/06/2019
An image grab shows Hisham Ashmawy (C), one of the country's most-wanted militants, being escorted by members from Egypt's intelligence service aboard a military aircraft, May 29. (Al-Masriya) 
An image grab shows Hisham Ashmawy (C), one of the country's most-wanted militants, being escorted by members from Egypt's intelligence service aboard a military aircraft, May 29. (Al-Masriya) 

CAIRO - Egypt's war on terror received a boost following the handover of militant Hesham Ashmawy, a former Egyptian Army officer, from the Libyan National Army.

Ashmawy, one the most wanted Egyptian militants, threatened the security of both Egypt and Libya and planned to form a terror network across North Africa and the Sahel and Sahara region, authorities said.

Ashmawy's arrival in Cairo interrupted most Egyptian TV channels with footage shown of him handcuffed and blindfolded. By showing Ashmawy's arrival in Cairo, Egyptian officials likely wanted to demonstrate that it is holding those suspected of committing crimes accountable, regardless of where they are.

Egypt described Ashmawy’s handover as a major security victory. Security analysts in Cairo said he could be a treasure trove of information about terrorist groups in Libya and Egypt.

"This is the one terrorist who has valuable information about terrorist organisations active in the two countries," said political analyst Abdel Monem Halawa. "He can provide the authorities with information about everything in relation to these organisations, from financing to recruitment methods, hideouts and sponsors."

Ashmawy, 41, was fired from the military in 2009 because of his radical ideas. In 2012, he headed to Sinai where he allegedly formed a terrorist group that swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A year later, he travelled to Turkey and Syria.

Ashmawy was accused of masterminding an attempt on the life of former Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim. In July 2014, Egyptian authorities accused him of attacking an army post in the Western Desert near the border with Libya. Twenty-eight officers and conscripts were killed in the attack.

He’s also accused of attacking the Dakahlia Security Directorate in the Nile Delta in December 2013, participating in the assassination of Prosecutor-General Hesham Barakat in June 2015 and attacking a bus carrying Christian pilgrims in the Western Desert in November 2018.

Ashmawy went to Libya in 2017 where he was said to have formed al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, including Ansar al-Islam and al-Mourabitoun. Such groups infiltrated Egypt from Libya and ambushed security personnel in the Western Desert.

Ashmawy was arrested in the eastern Libyan city of Derna by the Libyan National Army (LNA) last October and has been under interrogation by eastern Libya's authorities.

Libyan authorities, security analysts said, were keen to get information from Ashmawy about terrorist organisations in Libya, which could prove vital in Egypt’s fight against terrorism, security analysts said.

"He is linked to a large number of terrorist organisations and has a lot of information," said Tamer al-Shahawi, a retired intelligence officer and a member of the Egyptian parliament.

Egyptian authorities will be especially interested learning from Ashmawy how arms are smuggled from Libya into the Western Desert and Sinai, security analysts said. They added that authorities will be seeking information about terrorism financing and state sponsors of terrorist organisations in Egypt and Libya.

Ashmawy's handover showed growing coordination between Egypt and the LNA, which controls much of eastern and southern Libya and is conducting a campaign to gain control of Tripoli.

Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organisations commanded by Ashmawy were among the groups active in Libya, a country that has been in turmoil since the downfall of the Muammar Qaddafi regime in 2011.

"This shows the importance of security coordination between Egypt and the LNA," retired police general Farouk Megrahi said.

Ashmawy, security analysts said, used to liaise between terrorist groups in Libya and others in other North African countries and in Sahel and Sahara states.