Mokhtar Belmokhtar: Al-Qaeda-linked militant leader 'killed in US air strike in Libya'

Air strikes launched after consultation with Libyan government

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An Islamist militant charged with leading deadly attack on a gas plant in Algeria in 2013. has been killed in a US air strike on Libya, officials said on Sunday.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar was among fighters killed in the city of Ajdabiya, Libyan officials said. The US government confirmed that warplanes were sent to target the al-Qaida-linked leader.

His death – if the accounts prove to be correct – would mean that the US administration has finally got the man it designated as a “global terrorist”, with a $5 million bounty on his head. However, the strike also removed someone who had been tasked by al-Qaeda with a key role in the campaign against Isis in Libya.

Belmokhtar, it is claimed, had been sent to plan operations for Ansar al-Sharia, an al-Qaeda affiliate engaged in battling Isis as the two groups fight an internecine war for supremacy among Islamist militants.

Ansar al-Sharia’s fighters have been carrying out attacks in Darna, the Isis stronghold in eastern Libya. Rising tension between the organisation and Isis turned to violence last week after Nasser al-Aker, the leader of an allied group, was killed for refusing to swear allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed caliph by the “Islamic State”.

The internationally recognised Libyan administration based in Tobruk, one of two rival governments vying for control of the country, announced that 45-year-old Belmokhtar has been killed in an air strike in the eastern city of Ajdabaya, along with four members of Ansar al-Sharia.

The US charged Belmokhtar with terrorism offenses in connection with the Algeria attack in which 800 people were taken hostage and 40 were killed, according to the BBC.

There were six Britons and three Americans working at the gas plant who died in the siege and the US has said it believed him to be a threat to the West.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said there would be “more details as appropriate,” the Guardian reported.  

“Belmokhtar has a long history of leading terrorist activities as a member of AQIM, is the operational leader of the al-Qaeda-associated al-Murabitoun organisation in north-west Africa, and maintains his personal allegiance to al-Qaeda,” Warren added.

Authorities also offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Belmokhtar. He has been well-known for years, being referred to as “the one-eyed sheik” since he lost an eye in combat and “Mr Marlboro” as he funded his fighting with cigarette smuggling.

The strike took place after discussions with the Libyan government, which has been running a country in turmoil since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In its statement Sunday, the Libyan government said that the operation “is a piece of the international support that it has long requested to fight terrorism that represents a dangerous threat to the regional and international situation.”