(Author: Libyan Gazette Editorial Staff)
One of Al-Qaeda’s most wanted senior operatives was the target of a French aerial attack in southern Libya. Mokhtar Belmokhtar is likely to have been killed by the French attack that took place earlier this month, according to US officials.
Belmokhtar has been proclaimed dead on multiple occasions by the US, however, the terrorist group he leads had refuted those claims soon after they were made. The US claimed his death in June following an airstrike attack and another time last year after a drone strike attack.
US officials emphasized that the intelligence gathered for the most recent attempt on Belmokhtar’s life was much more accurate than before. The French acted on intelligence that was gathered by US forces earlier this month.
A follow up operation is currently underway to confirm that Belmokhtar was killed, said the US officials.
Representatives from the White House, the US Pentagon as well as a spokesperson for the French Ministry of Defense have declined requests to comment on the French attack in southern Libya.
Belmokhtar, who is considered to be responsible for killing at least three Americans, raised millions of dollars to fund Al-Qaeda operatives through smuggling, taking European hostages and selling illegal goods, said US officials.
Multiple US agencies have been hunting for Belmokhtar since 2013, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the military’s Joint Special Operations Command and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Belmokhtar has been on the US wanted list for about a decade. He has been responsible for Al-Qaeda operations in North Africa and the Sahel region.
If the French airstrike attack this month did kill Belmokhtar it would highlight the network of resources that the US, France and other allies have invested in the search and execution of Belmokhtar. It would also be the first confirmed airstrike attack by French forces in Libya, a country wary of foreign military intervention.
However, it will not be the first time France has operated missions in Libya. Officials say that France has been involved in providing support to local forces in their alleged fight against terrorism.
For month France was denying that it was running operations in Libya, but in July it was forced to admit it was after a helicopter was shot down in eastern Libya killing three French troops.
Lisa Monaco, US President Barack Obama’s homeland-security adviser said,“The French have been indispensable partners, bringing resources, expertise and determination to the fight.”