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17 Fighters from Ansar Al-Shari'a, Including Belmokhtar, Killed in US Air Strike on Libyan City of Ajdabya

June 15, 2015 


Mokhtar Belmokhtar (Khalid Abul Abbas), file photo, January 2013 sahara  


Libya says veteran militant killed in U.S. strike

Mon Jun 15, 2015 12:23pm EDT

By Ahmed Elumami and Peter Cooney


A veteran militant blamed for a deadly attack on an Algerian gas field and who ran smuggling routes across North Africa has been killed in a U.S. air strike inside Libya, Libya's government said on Sunday.

The recognized (Libyan) government said the strike had killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian militant who became a major figure in insurgencies across North Africa and the Saharan border region.

The U.S. military confirmed Belmokhtar had been targeted in Saturday night's air strike but did not say if he was killed.

The Pentagon was continuing to assess the results of the operation, spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said in a statement.

Libya's internationally recognized government, which sits in the eastern town of Bayda, said the U.S strike had killed Belmokhtar at a gathering with other militant leaders, who it did not name.

Libyan officials gave no further details about the area of the strike. But Libyan military sources said an air strike on a farmhouse on Saturday in Ajdabiya city near Benghazi had killed seven members of the Ansar al Sharia militant group who had been meeting there.

Belmokhtar earned a reputation as one of the most elusive jihadi leaders in the region. He has been reported killed several times, including in 2013 when he was believed to have died in fighting in Mali.

If confirmed, the death of Belmokhtar - who was blamed for orchestrating the 2013 attack on Algeria's Amenas gas field, in which 40 oil workers died, and for several foreign kidnappings - would be a major strike against al Qaeda-tied groups in the region.

Once associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's Algerian leadership, Belmokhtar broke from the group but remained tied to al Qaeda's central leadership even after forming his own group "Those who sign in Blood".

Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and Libya's slide into chaos and fighting between two rival governments, the North African state has seen the rise of Islamist militant groups, which have taken advantage of the turmoil.

Some are allied with al Qaeda's leadership, others have local loyalties and some have recently declared allegiance with the Islamic State, which has been gaining ground.

Ansar al-Sharia is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States after it was blamed for the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi that led to the death of the American ambassador.

In 2013, U.S. special forces carried out a raid on Tripoli to capture Abu Anas al-Liby - a Libyan suspected in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 civilians.

European states and Libya's North African neighbors have grown alarmed at Islamic State's expansion beyond its strongholds in Iraq and Syria to a chaotic country just across the Mediterranean sea from mainland Europe and with little control over its porous borders.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli and Peter Cooney in Washington; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Sandra Maler and John Stonestreet)

Questions shadow U.S. strike on veteran Algerian jihadist in Libya

Mon Jun 15, 2015 2:53pm EDT

 By Patrick Markey


U.S. officials have yet to confirm Libyan reports that Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed in eastern Libya, saying on Monday only that the F-15 jet raid appeared to have succeeded but stopping short of confirming his demise.

Doubts were well placed: Belmokhtar, who was in his early 40s, has been reported dead several times only to reappear in jihadist propaganda claiming responsibility for new attacks.

What is undisputed is that the raid attested to a Libya sliding deeper into armed anarchy since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi that Western nations fear is creating a jihadist safe haven just across the Mediterranean from Europe.

With two rival Libyan governments and their armed factions battling for control, Islamic State and other jihadist groups like Belmokhtar's have exploited the chaos to seek refuge, train and expand their influence in the vast North African country.

Libyan military officials said on Monday that up to 17 al Qaeda insurgents had been killed in the air strike while they were meeting near Benghazi, but did not name any. A U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said around two dozen militants may have been killed.  


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