An Egyptian military court has sentenced a notorious terrorist to death following his conviction for a series of brazen attacks, including an assassination attempt in 2013 against then interior minister Mohammed Ibrahim and several deadly ambushes in the desert.
Hisham Ashmawy, 41, is a former special operations officer who was thrown out of the army in 2012 for his extremist religious views and then became what local press described as “Egypt’s most wanted man”.
Wednesday’s death sentence followed his extradition in May from neighbouring Libya where he had set up a base for a terrorist group he led. His organization is believed to be responsible for a series of attacks targeting security forces and minority Christians in Egypt’s vast and barren western desert.
The court ruled on Wednesday that Ashmawy was also behind a 2013 attempt to assassinate then-Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim.
Mr Ibrahim survived a suicide car bombing near his Cairo home but 20 policemen and civilians were wounded.
Ashmawy, whose verdict can be appealed before a higher military court, was captured in eastern Libya last year by forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Hafter. The close Egyptian ally has been battling to rid his energy-rich but chaotic North African nation of militant groups that hold sway over large swathes of territory.
Ashmawy, also known as Abu Omar Al Muhajir, was sentenced to death in absentia in 2017 for his role in an ambush three years earlier in which gunmen killed 22 soldiers at a checkpoint near Egypt’s porous border with Libya.
After his discharge from the army, Ashmawy joined and quickly rose in the ranks of the militant Ansar Beit Al Maqdis group in the turbulent north of the Sinai Peninsula, home of a long-running insurgency by Islamic extremists seeking to overthrow the government. Attacks by the group grew more frequent and deadlier after the removal by the military in 2013 of divisive Islamist president Mohammed Morsi of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
Ansar Beit Al Maqdis pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014, a time when the latter group was at the pinnacle of its power with control over a third of Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
Ashmawy refused to join ISIS and, dejected, moved to eastern Libya where a year later he set up his own group, the Al Qaida-aligned Al Mourabitoun.
News of his death sentence coincided with an uptick in attacks by militants against security forces in northern Sinai. In February 2018, security forces launched what’s billed as an all-out offensive against the extremists, throwing into battle jet-fighters, helicopter gunships, tanks, artillery and warships.
Military statements have spoken of the destruction or disruption of the militants’ supply routes, hideouts and infrastructure in the offensive and the capture and death of dozens of militants.