Egyptian security forces have killed the Islamic State (Isis) commander allegedly involved in kidnapping Croatian surveyor Tomislav Salopek, who was subsequently beheaded. Authorities said in a statement IS militant Ashraf Ali Hasanain al-Gharabli had been killed in Cairo.
In a statement on Facebook, the Egyptian Ministry of Information sad that Al-Gharabli, who was wanted in connection with attacks near the border with Libya and the kidnapping of Salopek, was killed in a gun battle in the Egyptian capital's el-Marg area
Michael Horowitz, a senior analyst at the Levatine Group Middle East Consultancy told IBTimes UK that the killing marked a victory for Egyptian government forces in their battle to halt the spread of Isis, which is suspected of involvement in downing a Russian airliner, killing 224 people on board.
"The ISIS branch in Egypt is formally limited to Sinai where a "Wilaya [province]" was created, yet it has been seeking to expand to mainland Egypt for several months now," said Horowitz. "Under "Isis Misr [Egypt]" Isis has claimed several attacks in Cairo including the bombing of the Italian embassy in July, or the car bomb attack against the Shubra al-Kheimah security directorate in September amongst others.
"Egypt has been able to kill or detain some members of the ISIS cell in Cairo, but despite these efforts ISIS attacks have continued. ISIS and the Egyptian military are in a race against the clock. The killing of Ashraf Ali Hasanain al-Gharabli is in that sense a significant victory as it will likely disrupt ISIS's expansion plans," said Horowitz.
He said that not much was known of al-Gharabli, other than he had been on Egypt's most wanted terrorists list since 2014, and was close to Hisham Ashmawy, a former army officer who quit as a commander of jihadist group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis when it pledged allegiance to Isis, becoming Wilayat Sinai. "In light of his experience and Ashmawy's departure, al-Gharabli was probably deeply involved in ISIS's plan to expand to mainland Egypt," said Horowitz.
Oil and gas surveyor Salopek was kidnapped in Cairo in July, and beheaded in a video released by Wilayat Sinai in August. International flights from several countries to the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh were suspended last week after officials said it was likely a terrorist bomb had brought down a Russian airliner that crashed in Sinai.
Isis claimed responsibility for downing the airliner in a statement released after it crashed on October 31.