Top al-Qaeda militant ‘killed’ in U.S. strike

Libya's recognized government said a U.S. strike killed veteran Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar

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Notorious militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar was the target of a U.S. air strike, the Pentagon said Sunday, without immediately confirming claims in Libya that he was killed.

One-eyed Islamist commander Belmokhtar was the leader of the north African Al-Murabitoun militant group and a former chief of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Wanted for terrorist activities in several countries, he was the alleged mastermind behind the 2013 siege of an Algerian gas plant in which 38 mostly Western hostages were killed.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said in a statement: "I can confirm that the target of last night's counterterrorism strike in Libya was Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

"Belmokhtar has a long history of leading terrorist activities as a member of AQIM, is the operational leader of the Al Qaeda-associated Al Murabitoun organization in northwest Africa, and maintains his personal allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

"Belmokhtar directed the 2013 attacks at In-Amenas in Algeria that resulted in the deaths of at least 38 individuals from 10 countries, including three Americans, and poses a continuing threat to U.S. persons.

"The strike was carried out by U.S. aircraft. We are continuing to assess the results of the operation and will provide more details as appropriate."

Libya's recognized government said early Monday that the U.S. air forces carried out a strike that killed the veteran Algerian militant.

Libya has descended into chaos since a NATO-backed revolt unseated longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. It has rival governments and parliaments, and powerful militias are battling for influence and a share of its oil wealth.

Militant groups have exploited the lawlessness, which has also prompted a huge influx of migrants trying to make the dangerous crossing to Europe, with shipwrecks leaving hundreds dead and the EU straining to respond.

It was not immediately clear what kind of operation it was by the U.S. military, but Washington has deployed drones to strike targets in the region before.