By Adam Ali.
Benghazi 14 June 2015:
In what could be the first extension of the Washington-led air war against terrorists in Syria . . .[restrict]and Iraq, the US today killed seven leading members of Libya’s Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Al-Sharia in an airstrike on a farm outside Ajdabiya.
One of the victims of the raid, which happened at 2am this morning, was the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, former leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) who was accused of organising the January 2013 attack on Algeria’s desert Im-Amenas gas processing plant, in which 39 hostages and an Algerian guard died.
Belmokhtar, 43, also known as Khaled Abou El Abbas or Laaouar, is believed to have survived an assassination attempt in Qasr Ben Gashir last year. He was known to have been in Sirte recently. Last December there was a mystery helicopter attack on a camp near Traghen, south of Sebha which was believed to house militants connected with Belmokhtar.
This morning’s raid reportedly targeted a farm, 18 kilometres outside Ajdabiya which is owned by Al-Saadi al-Nofali, one of Ansar’s leaders in the town. It is understood that a number of senior militants was meeting there. Locals reported an earth-shattering explosion which they compared to the bomb and missile strikes during the NATO air war during the revolution. A photo clearly taken several hours after the attack, when it was light, shows a distant plume of black smoke .
Washington earlier this evening confirmed the raid against a “mid-level Al-Qaeda operative in Libya” but declined to give a location. Pentagon spokesman Col Steve Warren said that it was thought that the raid had been successful but the outcome was still being assessed. However, ABC later quoted a government official confirming that the target had been Belmokhtar, who could hardly be described as a mid-level commander.
To have mounted such a strike precisely when senior terror suspects were meeting suggests a high level of intelligence.
The government in Beida issued a statement that said that the US had consulted it in advance of the raid.
“The Libyan government confirms that this operation is part of the international support which has long been called for by the interim Libyan government to fight terrorism, which has become a dangerous obsession at the regional and international situation”. It called for further “consultation and co-ordination” to counter IS control of Sirte, its westward push toward Misrata, to the south toward Jufra and its drive into the oil crescent”.
A local in Ajdabiya told the Libya Herald this evening that Ansar, IS and Ajdabiya Shura Council members had tended to mix. The roadblock near the farm attacked this morning, initially assumed to be the target, was generally manned by militants from all three groups.
After the farm attack, there was an attempt to bring the wounded into town for treatment at Al-Magrief hospita. It was met with stiff resistance both from ordinary citizens but also troops from the Libya Army 151 Battalion’s base in the town, attacked last week in a property dispute and members of Ibrahim Jadhran’s Petroleum Facilities Guard.
Video footage showed locals and military units firing down a broad boulevard towards the approaching Ansar, IS and Shura Council forces. The fighting appears to have been heavy and this evening the names were released of five dead among the defenders. Two soldiers, Ahmed Elhouderi and Mograbi were killed along with civilians, Ali Younes Zatar Zwai, Ayman Alstrh Kabyle and Daud Saaiti. There were also 18 injured. Casualties among the attackers are unknown.