By Libya Herald reporters.
Tripoli and Tunis, 19 February 2016:
The Pentagon has announced that US warplanes carried out the attack early this morning . . .[restrict]on a suspected IS camp in Sabratha with the intention of killing a leading terrorist, Tunisian national Noureddine Chouchane, also known as Sabir.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook confirmed this afternoon that Chouchane was believed to be the mastermind behind the Tunisian attacks at the Bardo museum in Tunis and the beach Sousse beach resort, which killed a total of 69 tourists and one policeman. Cook did not say if it was thought that Chouchane had also planned November’s car bomb attack in the Tunisian capital which killed 12 members of the country’s presidential guard.
Cook claimed that Chouchane had been a key player in moving IS recruits from Tunisia to Libya and on to other counties. He continued “The destruction of the camp and Chouchane’s removal will eliminate an experienced facilitator and is expected to have an immediate impact of ISIL’s [IS’s] ability to facilitate its activities in Libya, including recruiting new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya and potentially planning external attacks on US interests in the region”.
TunisAlive has reported that the 36 year-old Chouchaine was from the Sidi Bouzid governate where he joined Ansar Al-Sharia in 2013. He fled to Libya after injuring a member of the Tunisian National Guard in a firefight. Tunisian intelligence sources believe he was the leader of the IS cell in Sousse. Besides the slaughter in that resort and earlier at the Bardo, he was credited with the murder of a policeman and the attempted murder of a Tunisian politician. One of his roles is alleged to have been in supplying weapons to terrorists in Tunisia.
Cook indicated that it was not yet clear if Chouchane had died in the airstrikes. Earlier this week the Pentagon admitted that it had failed to kill Algerian terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the prime target in a raid last June which obliterated an Ajdabiya farmhouse where Al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Al-Sharia leaders were supposedly meeting.
Cook warned: “This strike demonstrates we will go after ISIL whenever it is necessary, using the full range of tools at our disposal”.
He said that the camp had contained up to 60 fighters and had been watched for weeks. He hinted that a major operation has been in the planning “They had ill intent in their mind” was all that he would say. He added “There are other training camps in Libya like this. When we see the opportunity or need to take this kind of action, we will do so”.
Locals told media who had been flown in by helicopter from Tripoli by the Ghwell administration in Tripoli, that there had been at least five separate explosions on the compound in the Al-Ajaylat district of the town. There are unconfirmed reports that the compound had been rented to IS by a leading local family.
On Sabratha Council’s web site today, an Ibrahim Abdul Samad wrote that he believed that the IS camp had recently received a weapons’ shipment from Tunisia. In line with the Pentagon spokesman, he too speculated that a military operation was being planned somewhere in western Libya.
Earlier Sabratha mayor Hussein Dawadi had messaged that among the 41 dead, most of whom he said were Tunisian, were two women, together with a Jordanian and a Christian. He said the compound that had been hit was “probably an ISIS hideout”.
Despite growing evidence from as early as 2013 that Ansar Al-Sharia and then IS were in the town, Dawadi and other officials have repeated denied this. Last month the authorities in Tripoli organised a press trip to Sabratha to demonstrate that it was not in IS hands and that its exquisite Roman ruins had not been damaged by iconoclasts.
However, following a bomb attack last December on the local security headquarters, Dawadi had declared a state of emergency. This January he went further and introduced compulsory ID cards for all foreigners in the town. It is not clear if Chouchane and other terror suspects in the Al-Ajaylat compound applied for these cards.