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US air raid 'likely' kills ISIS operative

19 February 2016, 18:48

Washington - A US air strike targeting an Islamic State training camp in Libya "likely" killed an IS operative linked to two major jihadist attacks in Tunisia last year, a US defense official said Friday.

"The US conducted an air strike early this morning (Libya time) against an ISIL training camp near Sabratha, Libya, that likely killed ISIL operative Noureddine Chouchane," the official said, using an alternative acronym for the IS group.

Chouchane is suspected of being behind two IS-claimed assaults. The first, in March, saw an attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 21 tourists and a policeman.

In July, an attack on a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse killed 38 tourists -- including 30 Britons.

Libyan officials said Friday's dawn raid killed more than 40 people, but the US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, could not immediately confirm the number.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the United States was still assessing the results of the strike, but noted Chouchane's death would represent a significant blow to IS fighters in Libya.

"Destruction of the camp and Chouchane's removal will eliminate an experienced facilitator and is expected to have an immediate impact on ISIL'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," Cook said in a statement.

Cook added the strike showed the United States will target the IS group "whenever it is necessary."

The administration of President Barack Obama has faced criticism over the pace and scope of its anti-IS operations, and the US-led coalition that has been bombing IS targets in Iraq and Syria for the past 18 months has come under increasing pressure to expand beyond those two countries.

While the campaign has seen some successes in Iraq and Syria, IS jihadists have increased their presence in Libya and established a stronghold in the Mediterranean coastal town of Sirte.

The Pentagon estimates there to be some 5,000 IS fighters in Libya, many of whom come from neighboring Tunisia.

The latest US strike in Libya comes after a November action that killed top IS leader Abu Nabil, an Iraqi also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi.

And in December the Pentagon acknowledged that a group of US special operations troops who traveled to Libya to "foster relationships" was kicked out of the country soon after arriving.

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