U.S. denies role in arrest of Tunisian militant
Abou Iyadh was reportedly captured in the Libyan coastal city of Misrata
The United States denied on Monday taking part in the arrest of the head of Tunisian militant group Ansar al Shari in Libya, a military spokesman said, after Tunisia's state media reported that U.S. and Libyan forces had captured the Islamist leader.
“U.S. forces were not involved in any operations regarding Ansar Al Sharia leader Abou Iyadh today in Libya,” a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command said, according to Reuters.
Any U.S. involvement in an operation on Libyan soil would be highly sensitive. Libyan Islamists were furious at what they saw as Washington's interference after American forces captured a top al-Qaeda suspect in Tripoli in October.
Libya has seen growing Islamist militancy after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime two years ago.
Western powers have pledged to help the country control its borders and train its nascent armed forces to build up its capacity to control the country's territory.
Tunisia's TAP agency, citing a senior security source, said Abu Iyadh was captured in the coastal city of Misrata on Monday morning.
“An authorized security source told TAP that Saifallah Benahssine, known as Abu Iyadh, has been arrested in Libya on Monday morning,” TAP said.
“The source said special American forces arrested Abu Iyadh and other members of his group, helped by Libyan forces.”
Some U.S. officials believed that Abu Iyad had indeed been captured, while others said that reports of his capture had not been confirmed and cannot be considered reliable.
Libya's LANA state news agency also published the TAP report on the capture. But there was no comment from the Libyan government.
Misrata officials denied he had been captured in their city.
“Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia denies any information stating that its prince, the Tunisian Abu Iyadh, may God protect him, has been captured,” the group said on its Twitter account.
Ansar al-Sharia was one of the hardline jihadist groups to emerge after the Tunisia's revolt against its autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali three years ago when long-oppressed Islamist ultra-conservatives rose in influence.
Militant violence has also increased there since the government began a crackdown on the group this year, declaring it an outlawed organization.