CAIRO — The Libyan National Army handed over high-profile terrorist Hesham Ashmawi to the Egyptian authorities May 29. Ashmawi, who is convicted of carrying out terrorist attacks in Egypt, was delivered in a military plane. His interrogation started hours later.
Ashmawi's extradition comes after Abbas Kamel, the head of Egypt's intelligence service, visited Libya on May 28 and met with LNA commander Khalifa Hifter to discuss security relations between the two countries and efforts to combat terror organizations.
The Egyptian authorities accused Ashmawi of involvement in several terrorist operations, most notably the attempted assassination of former Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim in September 2013 and the bombing of the Dakahlia Security Directorate in late December 2014 that killed 14 people.
He was also referred to the military judiciary in October 2018 over the shootout that followed the raid on a terrorist hideout in al-Wahat al-Bahriya in 2017 that killed 16 police officers.
In October 2017, a military court sentenced Ashmawi to death in absentia along with 14 others convicted of killing two officers and 26 conscripts in a terrorist attack that targeted a military checkpoint in Farafra Oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert in July 2014.
After the LNA handed Ashmawi over to Egypt, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took to Facebook on May 29 to salute the intelligence agents who participated in the extradition process. “The war against terrorism is not and will not be over until we have [avenged the death] of each and every martyr who died defending the homeland,” he said.
Security analysts and researchers who spoke to Al-Monitor described Ashmawi, who was Egypt’s most wanted terrorist for years, as a treasure trove of information about the terrorist groups that have targeted Egypt in recent years. They said his extradition gave a morale boost to the army and police forces fighting terror organizations in Sinai.
Khalid Okasha, a member of Egypt's National Council to Confront Terrorism and Extremism, told Al-Monitor over the phone that Ashmawi’s extradition is “a decisive security blow to terrorism across the world, not only in Egypt.” He went on, “Ashmawi was affiliated with al-Qaeda branches throughout the region, especially in North Africa. He also coordinated with other terrorist organizations in the Middle East.”
Okasha stressed that Ashmawi’s extradition affirmed the strength of Egyptian-Libyan security efforts to confront terrorism and protect the national security of both countries.
The BBC reported in 2018 that Ashmawi spent time in a special forces unit called Saika or Thunderbolt in the Egyptian army before his dismissal in 2011 after he was convicted of incitement to disobedience within the army. He then founded al-Mourabitoun, which is close to al-Qaeda, became active in Sinai and subsequently became a leader in al-Qaeda-affiliated Jund al-Islam group.
Okasha added, “This blow will undoubtedly affect the terrorist system in the whole region. Ashmawi can be described as a valuable catch because he is a terrorist leader fully aware of all the secrets of these terrorist groups in terms of organization, financing, movement and safe houses. His arrest was carried out in cooperation between the Egyptian and Libyan security forces. We will definitely get a lot of information during the interrogation.”
Ashmawi spent about eight months in the LNA's custody. Sources in the LNA told Sky News Arabia that Ashmawi gave up important information and evidence of his relations with terrorist organizations during that time. He reportedly confessed to his relationship with foreign entities and attested to the relationship of these entities to the establishment and funding of terrorist organizations in Libya and Egypt.
Najeh Ibrahim, an Islamic thinker and writer who works for al-Shorouk newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “The extradition of Ashmawi means that Egypt's security and political forces are now covering many areas in the Middle East, including Libya. It also means the end of the terrorist threat coming from the west, given the disintegration of the leadership of the groups he was leading.”
“The arrest of Ashmawi gives a great morale boost to the army and police forces that are fighting terrorist groups in Sinai in order to end the Islamic State threat. It also means a moral setback for the Sinai and North Africa terrorists who are afraid of facing the same fate. In addition, it means that al-Qaeda’s presence in North Africa will diminish, and this will positively affect the security situation in North Africa, especially Egypt.”