A US air strike recently in Libya may have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar. At first, officials of the internationally-recognized Tobruk government insisted on Sunday that Belmokhtar had been killed in the attack but later said they were unsure who was killed.
The strike was on a farm near the city of Benghazi. According to different reports, 3 to 7 people have now been reported killed but none have been identified. US officials believed that Belmokhtar was at a meeting at the farm. Belmokhtar is not just a jihadist but a leading drug smuggler and arms dealer and has extensive connections among tribal leaders in areas where he operates. He is married to a woman from Timbuktu, Mali. If this was a business meeting with important local tribal leaders present this will make the Tobruk government even more a target of revenge attacks for allowing the US strike. American officials said the strikes were carried out by multiple F15E fighter jets. Multiple bombs were said to have been dropped on the site. Colonel Steve Warren, a defense department spokesperson confirmed that Belmokhtar was the target of the attack.
Belmokhtar is perhaps best known for claiming credit for the incident in 2013 in Algeria in which 39 hostages and 29 militants ended up dead. He was prominent in the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb(AQIM) movement. Belmokhtar fought in Algeria, Afghanistan, and has been long active in the Sahara area including Mali, in smuggling, hostage-taking for ransom, and various insurgencies. Some reports say that his meeting was with members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al Sharia , the group often blamed for the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Often called the Prince, Belmokhtar has a reputation for being killed in attacks only to re-emerge in public and in jihadist videos. US officials may be less insistent this time that he has been killed until they have better evidence. Often jihadists themselves announce when one of their leaders are killed. I have often wondered if such reports are always reliable although in some cases there is independent evidence as well. Jihadists could announce the death of a leader to ensure that the leader is safe from further targeted killing attempts.
The air strikes indicate that the US is now extending the range of its targeted killing to Libya. The attacks will be seen by Islamists within the rival Tripoli government as support for the Tobruk government and its armed forces chief Khalifa Haftar who has had previous ties with the CIA. There are peace talks ongoing between the rival government hosted by the UN. The UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon hoped to reach a deal before Ramadan this Thursday but so far there is silence about what is happening.
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Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.