Benghazi, Libya | AFP | Forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar on Monday captured one of Egypt’s most-wanted jihadists in the east of the chaos-ridden country, a spokesman said.
“The command of Arab Libyan forces announces the arrest of Egyptian terrorist Hisham el-Ashmawy at dawn on Monday, during a security operation in the city of Derna,” said Ahmad al-Mismari, spokesman for Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.
Derna was previously held by a ragtag alliance of Islamist and jihadist militias but was retaken by the LNA in late June, securing Haftar’s control over eastern Libya.
In western Libya, the internationally recognised Government of National Accord operates a rival administration out of the country’s capital Tripoli.
The spokesman for Haftar’s forces, who are backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, said their high-profile detainee was wanted over a series of attacks.
“He has been sought in Egypt for terrorist acts and his membership of the (jihadist) group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and the attempted assassination of a former interior minister in September 2013,” said Mismari, referring to Egyptian politician Mohamed Ibrahim.
A former officer with Egypt’s special forces, Ashmawy left the army in 2012 and later joined Ansar Beit al-Maqdis which is based in the Sinai Peninsula.
Ashmawy is believed to have gone to Libya in 2013, before Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in November 2014.
He is accused of being behind attacks in Egypt’s Western Desert region, operating alongside Emad al-Din Abdel Hamid, another army officer turned jihadist chief.
Abdel Hamid was killed in an air strike in October 2017 which Cairo said targeted an armed group responsible for a Western Desert ambush that left at least 16 police officers dead.