Friday, 20th September 2019

Egypt jihadist returned from Libya to face terror charges

A high-profile Egyptian jihadist who was transferred to Cairo from Libya will face a military tribunal over his alleged involvement in terror attacks, security and judicial sources said on Wednesday.

Egyptian government media broadcast footage of Hisham el-Ashmawy - one of the country's most-wanted militants - being escorted off a military aircraft early Wednesday morning.

Ashmawy was captured by the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) in October 2018 in the eastern city of Derna.

He was returned to his homeland after a meeting between LNA commander Khalifa Haftar and the head of Egypt's intelligence services in Benghazi. 

"Ashmawy is accused in several cases overseen by the military judiciary," an Egyptian source said.

A former officer with Egypt's special forces, Ashmawy was dismissed in 2012 over concerns about his religious views.

He joined the Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis but broke with the group after it pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in November 2014.

Known by his nom de guerre "Abu Omar al-Muhajir", Ashmawy announced the formation of an al-Qaeda aligned militant group al-Mourabitoun in Libya in July 2015.

He is accused of being behind attacks in Egypt's Western Desert region.

Authorities have also linked Ashmawy with high-profile attacks including a 2013 assassination attempt on then-interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim and the 2015 killing of a top public prosecutor.

In 2017, he was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian military court over his involvement with Ansar Beit al-Maqdis in attacking and killing soldiers at a checkpoint near the porous border with Libya.

He will face a retrial after his return to Egypt.

Shortly after his arrest in 2018, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked for the jihadist leader to be handed over.

"We want him to serve time in prison," said Sisi.

Haftar, who is leading a military offensive against the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, seized the city of Derna last summer.

His forces are backed in particular by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Analysts said that after a stint in captivity in Libya Ashmawy's intelligence value would have dropped.

"Ashmawy has been in LNA custody for almost eight months. He won't be in a position to provide information on any current militant groups in Libya," said Zack Gold, a researcher at CNA in the United States.

But Gold says his return could provide the authorities with information on how he recruited other former military personnel and on previous terror attacks.

"Importantly, but unlikely, the transfer of Ashmawy to Egypt could reveal details about a number of terrorist attacks in Egypt from 2013 onward," he said.


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