Details emerge of attack between police, extremists in Egypt’s Western Desert

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The Egyptian security forces continued their operations to hunt down extremists involved in the deadly attack on police forces in Egypt’s Western Desert which resulted in the deaths of 55 officers on Friday.

According to Egyptian security sources who spoke to Al Arabiya, security forces are currently combing all the areas adjacent to Okar, where the extremists were hiding and tracking their operations in the vicinity of Friday’s incident.

On the other hand, security forces tightened the measures in all the roads linking the region to the provinces of Giza and Fayoum to narrow the perpetrators, and raise the level of preparedness for any possible attacks.

In a related context, Mustafa Bakri, a member of the Egypt’s House of Representatives, revealed further details of Friday’s incident in series of tweets and said Egyptian National Security Service reached the location of the extremist camp in the Western Desert after the arrest of four extremists in Qaliubiya. Two of the extremists confessed to the existence of a “terrorist camp” in the area, and gave full details of the group’s whereabouts.

Lieutenant Ahmad Shousha was also among the officers killed in the shootout. (Supplied)
Lieutenant Ahmad Shousha was also among the officers killed in the shootout. (Supplied)

Bakri added that instructions were issued to prepare a mission to be conducted by Egyptian national security and special forces to carry out the operation. On Friday morning, the forces moved from Ahmed al-Kabir camp on the desert road and headed to Kilo 135, the location of the extremists’ hideout. After the arrival of the forces, a group were left on the main road leading to the Western Desert for backup. Several radical fighters monitored the arrival of troops and had advance notice and were therefore prepared for the confrontation and bombarded the forces using an RPG.

Bakri confirmed that there was confusion between the forces who were taken by surprise by the attack as they had no air support or a prior survey of the area. Then, there was a connection between the besieged forces and the forces that provide the main road. Suddenly the communication was interrupted by their satellite phone as there were oilfields near their area. Two officers managed to escape by a police car as they were wounded and went to Fayoum, where they entered Ibshway Hospital.

The member of parliament also said that the security campaign was surprised by the existence of a camp full of extremists with 100 gunmen led by a former Egyptian army officer Hisham al-Ashmawy, who formed a group of extremists from ISIS fighters in Libya. Ashmawy knows the Sahara Desert and founded the group in the area, according to the confessions of those arrested in Qaliubiya.

The majority of the information that came out of the Egyptian sources indicate that the Ashmawy, the former Commando officer fired from the Egyptian army, is the main executor of the attack.

Ashmawy was previously accused of being involved in most of the terror attacks in Egypt, including the recent church bombings and the Monastery of St. Samuel in El Menia governorate, the assassination attempt of the former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, the Arabian Circassians case, Al Farafra ambush, targeting the 101 Battalion, and accused of establishing and training terrorist cells in Libya to carry out terror operations in Egypt.

Hisham al-Ashmawy: Military man turned jihadist

He is known with several names, he is entitled for Abu Omar al-Muhajir “in 2015 he recorded a video where he threatened that he will target the army and police officers in Egypt, and more terrorist operations in Sinai, the West Cairo Military Criminal Court sentenced him, in absentia, to death for his involvement in the "Al Farafra ambush attack" where 28 officers and soldiers were killed.

Security source revealed to Al Arabiya some details about Ashmawy and said that he was former officer in the Egyptian army in the Commandos forces and was dismissed 12 years ago, then he became a member of “ISIS in Sinai”.

Ashmawy, 47, joined the Egyptian army in the 90s in the commandos’ unit and worked in the Sinai Peninsula for more than 10 years. After that, he was dismissed from the army in 2011, as it was proved that he believes in the Takfiri ideas since then he had no connection with the army.

هشام عشماوي
هشام عشماوي

After being dismissed, Ashmawy formed a cell that included a group of extremists, including four police officers dismissed from the service, headed by Hashim Helmi, an officer who was dismissed from the police, after it turned out that he also embraced the extremist ideology and proved to have a connection with the Egyptian organization that follows al-Qaeda ideology.

In 2013, Ashmawy traveled to Darnah in Libya and got trained in al-Qaeda camps. His group joined the radical group headed by Kamal Allam, he established supporters of Beit-Maqdis militias which belongs to ISIS and trained more than 200 elements of Beit-Maqdis militias, the most dangerous operation of this militias was the one that took place in November 2014 when a former officer working under the leadership of Hisham Ashmawi, headed an attack on Battleships near Damietta city.

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