More than 40 dead as US hits IS group target in Libya
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A US air strike on a building in western Libya killed dozens of people Friday, possibly including a senior Islamic State group operative behind attacks in Tunisia, officials said.
"The US conducted an air strike early this morning (Libya time) against an ISIL [IS group] training camp near Sabratha, Libya, that likely killed ISIL operative Noureddine Chouchane," a US official said, using an alternative acronym for the IS group.
In a statement issued after the raid, the Pentagon said it was “assessing the results of the operation and [we] will provide additional information as and when appropriate”.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Chouchane and other jihadists had been planning attacks against US and other Western interests, and said the mission had been launched from British air base RAF Lakenheath.
"I was satisfied that its destruction makes us all safer, and I personally authorised the US use of our bases," British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement.
According to Hussein al-Dawadi, an official in the city, located near the border with Tunisia, a jihadist safe house was destroyed in the dawn raid in Sabratha about 70 kilometres west of Tripoli. He told AFP that 41 people had been killed in the attack.
“This was a very significant raid,” said FRANCE 24’s Tunisia correspondent Sandro Lutyens. “It was aimed at one house and most of those killed were Tunisians, including Noureddine Chouchane, who is connected to two major attacks in Tunisia last year.”
In June 2015, an attack on a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse killed 38 tourists including 30 Britons. That followed an attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in March 2015 that killed 21 tourists and a policeman.
Both attacks were claimed by the IS group, which the United States is also targeting with air strikes in Syria and Iraq.
On November 13, a US air strike in Libya killed an IS leader, Abu Nabil, an Iraqi also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi.
It was the first US strike against an IS group leader in the North African country, where a US official estimated this month the jihadist group has about 5,000 fighters.
US President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday not to let the IS group build a base in Libya.
"We are working with our other coalition partners to make sure that as we see opportunities to prevent ISIS [another acronym for the IS group] from digging in in Libya, we take them," Obama said.
"We will continue to take actions where we`ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind."
In December, the Pentagon acknowledged that a group of US special operations troops who had travelled to Libya to "foster relationships" was kicked out of the conflict-torn country soon after they arrived.
IS has exploited the turmoil in Libya since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi five years ago, raising fears it is establishing a new stronghold on Europe's doorstep.
Last June, IS group fighters captured the city of Sirte, 450 kilometres east of Tripoli.
The recognised government has been based in the country's far east, having fled a militia alliance including Islamists that overran the capital in August 2014.
The alliance has its own administration and parliament in the capital. The United Nations is pushing the two sides to back a unity government to tackle jihadists and people-smugglers.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)