Egypt took over the custody of one of its most wanted militants from Libya on Wednesday, a former special forces officer who authorities believe was behind a series of high-profile assassinations and terrorist attacks dating back to 2013.
Hisham Ashmawi was captured last October by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army in the city of Derna, a one-time stronghold of Islamic militants in eastern Libya.
Egypt immediately requested his extradition, but the Libyans did not comply at first, for reasons that remain unclear.
Egyptian investigators flew to Libya soon after his capture, taking part in his questioning in the hope of gleaning useful information on militant groups fighting security forces in the Sinai Peninsula.
Field Marshal Haftar is a close ally of Egypt and his forces are fighting Islamic militant groups in Libya that Egypt sees as a threat to their own national security. Egyptian military trainers are deployed in Libya in support of Field Marshal Haftar forces and the two sides are also known to share intelligence.
Egypt's state media said Libya had handed over Ashmawi during a visit by intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, a retired army general who is a longtime confidant of President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi.
They aired footage of Ashmawi stepping off an Egyptian Air Force C-130 aircraft limping, blindfolded, wearing a blue tracksuit and accompanied by a pair of masked security men carrying assault rifles.
Egyptian authorities say that Ashmawi is linked to the assassination of Egypt's chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat in 2015, the first successful assassination in the country since the 1981 killing of President Anwar Sadat at the hands of Islamic militants.
They have also linked him to the 2013 attempted assassination of Mohammed Ibrahim, who was the interior minister at the time, as well as several deadly terrorist attacks near Egypt’s porous desert border with Libya.
In 2017, Ashmawi was sentenced to death in absentia after a conviction on terror-related charges. He will now be retried, most probably before a military court.
In an audio recording released in 2015 and believed to be authentic, Ashmawi declared his allegiance to the Al Qaeda network, led by fellow Egyptian Ayman Al Zawahiri.
Before he fled to Libya in 2012, Ashmawi helped found Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, a militant organisation based in Sinai. He used his military expertise – he left the Egyptian military in 2011 – to transform the tiny group into a potent guerrilla force.
The group declared its allegiance to ISIS in 2014 and is now known as the Wilayat Sinai, or the province of Sinai branch.