One of Egypt’s most wanted men, a former special forces officer turned Islamist terrorist commander, condemned President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday and called for a holy war against his government, Reuters reported.
An audio message attributed to Hisham al-Ashmawy, who security officials suspect masterminded the recent car bomb assassination of Egypt’s top prosecutor, said the country is “overpowered by the new pharaoh” Sisi.
Ashmawy is part of a small but highly dangerous succession of former Egyptian army officers who have joined jihadist groups, complicating Sisi’s efforts to confront what he calls an existential threat from extremism.
With their knowledge of the Arab world’s biggest army and training, they pose a security threat to Egypt which faces an insurgency based in northern Sinai, noted Reuters.
“All of you must come together to confront your enemy. Do not fear them, but fear Allah if you are truly believers,” said the audio message, which was carried by the monitoring group SITE.
The message, according to Reuters, was posted on July 20 on an Al-Qaeda-affiliated forum and coincided with the Eid al-Fitr holiday just marked by Muslims.
The audio message features two pictures of Ashmawy in military uniform. He is identified by the nom de guerre of Abu Omar al-Muhajir al-Masri and as Emir of the Al-Murabiteen group.
According to Reuters, Ashmawy, who has been on the run for years, formed a cell within the Sinai Province terrorist group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and has claimed most of the terrorist attacks that have taken place in the restive Sinai.
In his message, Ashmawy accused Sisi “and his soldiers” of fighting “our religion” and killing “our men and women”.
Among the attacks claimed by the Sinai Province since the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was the assassination of a top Egyptian police general, who was gunned down as he left his home in a west Cairo neighborhood, and a bus bombing on a tour bus filled with South Korean tourists in the Sinai.
The group has also claimed responsibility for several rocket attacks from the Sinai Peninsula on southern Israel.
Sisi, who as army chief ousted Morsi following popular protests calling on him to go, has led a crackdown on terrorist groups since becoming president.
As part of the crackdown, the Egyptian army imposed a curfew on Gaza and then began building a buffer zone along the border, following two deadly attacks in El-Arish which killed dozens of soldiers. Egypt accuses Gaza’s Hamas rulers of assisting Sinai terrorists with attacks, though Hamas denies the accusations.