On 8 October, the spokesperson for the Libyan National Army (LNA), Ahmed Mesmari, stated that the Libyan National Army (LNA) had captured former Egyptian Special Forces officer turned Egyptian jihadist, Hisham al-Ashmawy, in the al-Maghar neighborhood of Derna. Al-Ashmawy was captured with a suicide vest on, which he had failed to detonate. Photos published by the LNA show al-Ashmawy bloodied and receiving treatment following his arrest. Following his capture, Egyptian security officials have called for his extradition.
Described by some security officials as Egypt’s most wanted man, Al-Ashmawy (also known as Abu Omar Al-Muhajir) joined the Egyptian Armed forces in the 1990s and became a member of the Egyptian Special Forces in 1996, before eventually being expelled from the military for his radicalization. He then joined a north Sinai militant group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. However, when this group pledged its allegiance to IS in July 2014, Ashmawy split from the group and established his own group that became linked with al-Qaeda. Al-Ashmawy led the al-Qaeda front groups al-Mourabitoun and later Jama’at Ansar al-Islam.
Al-Ashmawy is thought to have been using Derna as a safe haven from which to springboard into Egypt to launch attacks. Al-Ashmawy is accused of several attacks in Egypt including an assassination attempt on then Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim in 2013 and killing a leading Egyptian public prosecutor by car bombing in 2015.
Al-Ashmawy was captured along with the wife and sons of Omar Rifai Sorour, the alleged Mufti of the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council who was killed in June of this year. He was also arrested with Bahaa Ali and Merai Abdefattah Khalil Zoghbi. Zoghbi is listed by the UN Security Council and Interpol as a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), al-Qaeda, and Ansar al-Islam. The jihadist is said to have escaped from Italy to Turkey in 2009 where he was provided political asylum. He is thought to have returned to Libya in 2011, fighting with LIFG members amongst the Rafa’a al-Sahti Brigade that would eventually become part of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya.
A weekly update of IS’s actions, the Western response, and developments pertaining to Libya’s other militias is available by subscribing here. To read about Western countries’ responses to IS in Libya this week, click here, and to read about the developments within the anti-IS Coalition of Libyan militias, click here. To read all four sections of this week’s Eye on IS in Libya report, click here.