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Libya's Haftar hands over al-Qaeda-linked militant to Egypt

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is an ardent supporter of Libyan Khalifa Haftar [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 29 May, 2019

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One of the most-wanted Egyptian militants who was captured in neighbouring Libya last year has been transferred to Egypt by Libyan General Khalifa Haftar.
One of the most-wanted Egyptian militants who was captured in neighbouring Libya last year has been transferred to Egypt, state media reported on Wednesday.

Libyan General Khalifa Hafter handed over Hisham al-Ashmawy after meeting with Egypt's intelligence services chief in Benghazi, his office said in a statement late Tuesday.

Egyptian pro-government media broadcast footage of Ashmawy arriving in Egypt on a military aircraft early Wednesday morning.

"The Libyan armed forces handed over the terrorist Hisham Ashmawy to the Egyptian general intelligence Tuesday evening," state TV said on its website.

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 Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in November 2014, becoming one of Egypt's most wanted terrorists.

He left Maqdis due to their Islamic State allegiance and became the leader of the al-Qaeda-aligned militant group al-Mourabitoun, according to the BBC.

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.

Ashmawy was captured by Haftar's forces in October 2018 in the city of Derna, east of Libya.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had previously asked for the jihadist leader to be handed over.

"We want to imprison him," he said at the time.

Ashmawy is part of a small but highly dangerous succession of former Egyptian army officers who have joined militant groups, complicating Sisi's efforts to confront what he calls an existential threat from extremism.

Haftar, who is leading a military offensive against the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, seized the city of Derna last summer.

His self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) is backed in particular by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Haftar's assault on the Libyan capital Tripoli has recently stalled as fighters loyal to the government have mounted a successful defence.

Earlier this month, Haftar rejected UN calls for a ceasefire, urging his troops to "wipe out" forces loyal to the government during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Over 450 people have been killed and 2,000 injured in Haftar's assault on Tripoli, according to the World Health Organisation. Approximately 70,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to the assault.

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