40 killed as US planes strike Islamic State targets in Libya
Published 19/02/2016 | 12:21
US planes have struck multiple targets in Libya, hitting an Islamic State training camp and a senior extremist leader, American defence officials said.
More than 40 people were killed and others wounded, some critically, according to local officials.
One official described the strikes as being carried out "against an Isil training camp" and said an attack near Sabratha, not far from the Tunisian border, probably killed IS operative Noureddine Chouchane, who is believed to be Tunisian.
The official said up to 60 people were at the camp at the time of the strike.
A witness in the city said he heard two explosions coming from the nearby village of Qasr Talel. He said the house that was targeted belongs to Abdel-Hakim al-Mashawat, known locally as an IS militant.
The official Facebook page of Sabratha city council put the death toll at over 40 with more wounded.
"There are torn body parts buried under the rubble," it said in a posting. It noted that the victims were not all Libyans. The witness said he saw a hospital list that noted victims were also from Tunisia and Algeria.
Sabratha is one of the main launching points for smugglers' boats heading to Europe. It has been also a transit point for North African jihadists joining IS affiliates in their strongholds in the central city of Sirte and eastern cities such as Benghazi.
US President Barack Obama earlier this year directed his national security team to bolster counter-terrorism efforts in Libya while also pursuing diplomatic possibilities for solving its political crisis. US officials had said they were holding off on sustained military action against IS targets in Libya until a government was formed, a process that is still incomplete
The US military has been closely monitoring IS movements in Libya, and small teams of military personnel have moved in and out of the country over a period of months.
British, French and Italian special forces have also been in Libya helping with aerial surveillance, mapping and intelligence gathering in several cities, including Benghazi in the east and Zintan in the west, according to Libyan military officials who are co-ordinating with them.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook confirmed the targeted extremist was Chouchane, a Tunisian national who was "an Isil senior facilitator in Libya associated with the training camp".
Mr Cook said Tunisian officials in May 2015 named Chouchane as a suspect in a March 18 2015 attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
"He facilitated the movement of potential Isil-affiliated foreign fighters from Tunisia to Libya and onward to other countries," Mr Cook said.
"Destruction of the camp and Chouchane's removal will eliminate an experienced facilitator and is expected to have an immediate impact on Isil's ability to facilitate its activities in Libya, including recruiting new Isil members, establishing bases in Libya, and potentially planning external attacks on US interests in the region."
Another official said the US believes Chouchane was killed. He said the attack did not herald the start of a sustained US air campaign in Libya but was an example of opportunistic strikes targeting key IS operatives.