U.S. Airstrikes in Libya Target Suspected ISIS Gathering, 40 Killed

Islamic state militants in Sirte, Libya, shown in a video posted online in December. (Uncredited/AP)
Islamic state militants in Sirte, Libya, shown in a video posted online in December. (Uncredited/AP)

U.S. airstrikes Friday hit a suspected Islamic State training camp in Libya, officials said, leaving more than 40 dead in a sign of possible stepped up Western military pressures against militant strongholds in North Africa.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity in advance of a formal statement, said a key target was a senior Tunisian militant linked to two commando-style attacks last year in his homeland.

It was the first major U.S. airstrike in Libya since November and followed increased alarms by Western leaders about a widening Islamic State presence in Libya, which could open new oil-linked funding sources and give militants footholds along migrant routes to southern Europe.

The airstrikes destroyed a large farmhouse outside Sabratha, a city near the Tunisia border, where suspected militant fighters had gathered to hear a religious leader, said Jamal Naji Zubia, the head of the foreign news media office in Tripoli in a telephone interview.

A possible key target in the attack was Noureddine Chouchane, an Islamic State operative who was believe to be key plotter the Tunisian attacks against popular tourist sites. It was not immediately clear whether Chouchane was among those killed.

Eastern Libya also was the site of a June 2015 airstrikes seeking to target a most-wanted Algerian militant who had past ties to al-Qaeda, Mokhtar Belmokhtar. But U.S. officials still have not confirmed whether Belmokhtar was killed in the attack.

Zubia — who described the Friday airstrikes as an “accurate hit” — said most of the victims were Tunisian, but at least one was Jordanian.

“They are believed to be from Daesh,” said Zubia, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State. “They had gathered at the house to hear a speech from one of their Tunisian imams.”

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SOURCE: Sudarsan Raghavan and Brian Murphy 
The Washington Post