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U.S. Air Strike Targets Top Islamist Militant In Libya

A video grab shows Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

The United States says a top Islamist militant who ordered a deadly attack on an Algerian gas plant two years ago has been the target of a U.S. air strike in Libya.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said the strike targeting Mokhtar Belmokhtar was carried out by U.S. aircraft late on June 13.

He did not confirm that Belmokhtar had been killed.

However, Libya's internationally recognized government said he and other militants were killed in the operation in the eastern city of Ajdabiya.

It said the air strike came "after consultation with the Libyan transitional government" based in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Belmokhtar, an Algerian in his 40s, has been reported killed before.

He was a former senior figure in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but left to start his own franchise.

In his statement, Warren said, "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.”

Warren also said Belmokhtar “directed” the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in 2013, when some 800 people were taken hostage and at least 38 people were killed, most of them foreigners.

The United States filed terrorism charges against Belmokhtar in connection with the attack. U.S. authorities also offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

Libya has been in chaos since the ouster of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Rival militias have been battling to fill a power vacuum.

In its statement, the Libyan government said the operation "is a piece of the international support that it has long requested to fight terrorism that represents a dangerous threat to the regional and international situation."

It added that the government would like more help fighting terrorism, including the Islamic State extremist group which controls the central city of Sirte.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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