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Algeria gas plant jihadist Belmokhtar 'killed in US strike'

Update: June, 15/2015 - 15:19

BENGHAZI, Libya — Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who allegedly masterminded the siege of an Algerian gas plant in which 38 hostages died, has been killed in a US air strike, Libya's internationally recognised government said on Sunday.

"American jets conducted an operation which resulted in the deaths of Mokhtar Belmokhtar and a group of Libyans belonging to a terrorist organisation in eastern Libya," said the statement, which was posted on Facebook.

The Pentagon said Belmokhtar had been the target of the strike but did not confirm he had been killed.

Islamist commander Belmokhtar, nicknamed variously as "The Uncatchable", "Mr Marlboro" and "The One-Eyed," was the leader of the north African Al-Murabitoun militant group and a former chief of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

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.

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

"The strike was carried out by US aircraft. We are continuing to assess the results of the operation and will provide more details as appropriate." The US did not immediately confirm more details of the operation.

Washington has in the past used drones to strike targets in the North African region, but the New York Times reported this was the first US air strike of any kind carried out in Libya since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi's regime in 2011.

The last US operation in Libya was in 2014, when special forces captured Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the alleged organisers of the attack against the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012 that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The Libyan statement said the operation took place "after consultation with the Libyan transitional government" based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani voiced his "support," saying the operation was "part of international aid that has long been sought in the fight against terrorism".

Libya's Lana news agency cited an official from the internationally recognised government as saying the strikes had targeted a farm south of Ajdabiya, some 160 kilometres west of Benghazi, as Belmokhtar was holding a meeting with leaders from other extremist groups including UN-listed terror organisation Ansar al-Sharia.— AFP

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