Libya group denies death of al-Qaida-linked Belmokhtar
A Libyan jihadist group denied Tuesday that al- Qaidalinked militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar — the man behind multiple deadly attacks with a history of coming back from the dead — was killed in a U. S. airstrike.
Ansar al-Sharia named seven people it said were killed in the U.S. strike in eastern Libya but Belmokhtar, who Washington has said was the target, was not among them.
“No other person was killed,” the group, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations, said in a statement.
Belmokhtar, an Algerian nicknamed variously as “The Uncatchable,” “Mr. Marlboro” and “The One-Eyed,” is leader of the North African Al-Murabitoun militant group and a former chief of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
He allegedly masterminded the 2013 siege of an Algerian gas plant in which 38 hostages, mostly Westerners, were killed.
Libya’s internationally recognized government claimed on Sunday that Belmokhtar — who has been reported dead on several previous occasions — was killed in the strike.
The Pentagon had itself been non- committal about whether the strike by two F-15 Strike Eagle fighter jets armed with 500-pound bombs had succeeded in killing its target.
U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said: “The actual impact of that raid is still being assessed.”
The last U. S. operation in Libya was in 2014, when special forces captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, an alleged organizer of the attack against the U. S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012 that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Libya said the strike had been carried out in coordination with its internationally recognized government.
Prime Minister Abdullah alThani called it “part of international aid that has long been sought in the fight against terrorism.”