The United States launched airstrikes in eastern Libya targeting a prominent terrorist leader responsible for a 2013 attack on an Algerian gas plant that resulted in the deaths of more than 38 hostages, including three Americans, U.S. officials said.
The airstrikes that killed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar were executed on Saturday, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren.
As per USA Today, Warren said in a statement, “Belmokhtar has a long history of leading terrorist activities,” and that “maintains his personal allegiance” to al-Qaeda and “poses a continuing threat to U.S. persons.”
A Pentagon official told CNN, “It was a single strike conducted by a manned aircraft.” The official further added that there was no presence of any American personnel on the ground.
The Libyan government confirmed that Belmokhtar and several others in Ajdabiya were killed by the strikes.
A government official in Libya said that the strike that hit Ajdabiya had successfully killed five members, and injured more, of a group speculated to be affiliated with Ansar al-Shariah. In the hours of fighting, the group was engaged with the Libyan military holding guard of the hospital there.
According to Fox News, federal law enforcement officials in Manhattan had charged Belmokhtar with conspiring to support al-Qaeda and use of weapon of mass destruction. In addition, he also faced charges of conspiring to take hostages and opening fire, which could lead to a death sentence.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had said in a release that Belmokhtar “unleashed a reign of terror years ago, in furtherance of his self-proclaimed goal of waging bloody jihad against the West.”
Belmokhtar founded the Signed-in-Blood Battalion – also known as the al-Mulathamun Battalion – which had claimed responsibility for the Algerian attack in January two years ago.
During that attack, a natural gas complex near In Amenas was targeted by armed militants. The westerners working in the complex were taken in a group and tied up. Belmokhtar had declared that the attack was a retribution for Algeria giving France the permission to use its airspace to attack Islamic militants in Mali.
While the United States conducts regular airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State militants, strikes in Libra in contrast as rare, according to Bloomberg.
Libya is divided between the international recognized government established in the eastern side of the country and the Islamic government backed by militant groups that took control of Tripoli last August.
The airstrike in Libya was the first conducted by the US since the 2011 NATO mission that was carried out to eject Moammar Gadhafi.
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