Sunday 18 March 2018

Isil terror chief believed dead in US raid in Libya

Foreign tourists are evacuated from the site of the attack carried out by two gunmen at Tunis’s famed Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015
Foreign tourists are evacuated from the site of the attack carried out by two gunmen at Tunis’s famed Bardo Museum on March 18, 2015
Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove

Raf Sanchez in New York

One of the masterminds behind last summer's massacre of tourists in Tunisia is believed to have been killed in a US bombing raid on an Isil camp in Libya.

US warplanes targeted Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian terrorist who helped organise the attack that killed 38 people at a beach hotel in June.

US intelligence is still trying to confirm whether Chouchane was killed but more than 30 other Isil fighters died in the bombing, according to the 'New York Times'. One US official said it was "likely" Chouchane was among the dead.

The raid is symbolic of growing Western alarm at how Isil has expanded its control over swathes of Libya even as it faces setbacks in Iraq and Syria.

Both Britain and the US have stepped up reconnaissance and special forces operations in Libya and President Barack Obama said this week that America would target Isil "wherever it appears".

US F-15 Strike Eagle jets carried out the raid from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.

Michael Fallon, the UK Defence Secretary, authorised the use of a British base on Thursday, while travelling back from the Falklands.

Mr Fallon said: "I welcome this strike that has taken out a Daesh training camp being used to train terrorists to carry out attacks. I was satisfied that its destruction makes us all safer, and I personally authorised the US use of our bases." Daesh is an Arabic name for Isil.

A Pentagon spokesman said confirmation of Chouchane's death would "eliminate an experienced facilitator and is expected to have an immediate impact on Isil's ability to facilitate its activities in Libya".

Chouchane (36) allegedly helped plan the mass shooting at a beachfront hotel in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse.

A gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire on holiday makers and killed 38 people, of whom three were Irish and 30 were British.

Chouchane was also reportedly involved in the attack on a Tunisian museum three months earlier. The shooting killed 22 people, most of whom were foreigners.

Tunisia was one of the only countries to emerge from the Arab Spring with hopes of reaching democracy but its confidence was rocked by the twin attacks on its vital tourism sector.

A warrant was issued for Chouchane's arrest but he is believed to have slipped over the border to Libya and found refuge in the chaos there.

The US airstrikes, launched at dawn yesterday, struck a farm house outside of the Libyan coastal city of Sabratha, around 60km west of Tripoli.

The house was a well-known training ground for Isil fighters of several nationalities.

"The US conducted an air strike early this morning (Libya time) against an Isil training camp near Sabratha, Libya, that likely killed Isil operative Noureddine Chouchane," a US official said.

Hussein al-Dawadi, a local mayor, said 41 people were killed in the bombing and "the vast majority of those killed were Tunisians who were probably members of Isil."

Despite political progress in Tunisia, it has been one of the main sources of foreign fighters for Isil. Around 7,000 Tunisians have joined the group in Iraq and Syria, making them the largest foreign nationality in the so-called caliphate, according to figures from the US Congress.

Sabratha is just 100km from the border with Tunisia and has emerged as a stronghold for Isil along with Sirte, the hometown of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Mr Obama was asked this week if Western militaries should intervene again in Libya, five years after Nato airpower helped Libyan rebels overthrow the Gaddafi regime.

"With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after Isil wherever it appears, the same way that we went after al-Qa'ida wherever they appeared," Mr Obama said.

"We will continue to take actions where we've got a clear operation and a clear target in mind."

The US began striking Isil leaders in Libya in November last year. An American strike killed Abu Nabil, an Iraqi Isil leader who was transferred to Libya to help lead the group's efforts there.

Several months earlier, US jets bombed a site near Ajdabiya in eastern Libya in an effort to kill Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed militant behind a 2013 attack on a gas plant in Algeria. Isil sees Belmokhtar as a rival and have called for his death. It remains unclear if he was killed in the US raid. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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