Libya says 'uncatchable' veteran militant killed in US strike

2015-06-15 11:18

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Tripoli/Washington - A veteran Islamist 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 recognised 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 and was dubbed "The Uncatchable" by the French military.

The US 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, spokesperson Colonel Steve Warren said in a statement.

Libya's internationally recognised government, which sits in the eastern town of Bayda, said the US 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.

Elusive 'gangster-jihadist'

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 In 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".

The one-eyed veteran of Afghanistan and Algeria's own 1990s Islamist war had long been a major figure in Saharan smuggling, hostage-taking, arms trafficking and insurgencies, including the conflict in Mali.

Linked to a string of kidnappings of foreigners in North Africa in the past decade, Belmokhtar, who was born in Algeria in 1972, earned a reputation as one of the most important "gangster-jihadists" of the Sahara.

He also gained prominence as a supplier of arms to Islamist groups and as a trafficker of cigarettes, which gained him the nickname "Mister Marlboro" among the local population in the Sahara.


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 Islamic State, which has been gaining ground.

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

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

European states and Libya's North African neighbours 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.

One Ajdabiya city resident said Saturday night's air strike had appeared to be much more accurate than ones carried out by local forces. The resident said it appeared to be laser-guided.

"It was a really accurate strike," the witness said.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  algeria  |  us  |  libya  |  north africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.