Al-Qaeda unit denies its former chief was killed in US air strike

TRIPOLI - Al-Qaeda in North Africa has denied reports that its former leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed in a US air strike last week in Libya, in a statement posted online overnight.

"The mujahid Khaled Abu al-Abbas is still alive and well," said the statement from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, using the name by which Belmokhtar is widely known in extremist circles.

"The real target of the air strike was the Libyan lions," the terrorist group said, referring to fighters in the strife-torn North African country.

Libya's internationally recognised government said on Sunday that Belmokhtar - who has been reported dead on several previous occasions - was killed in an air strike by the United States.

The Pentagon said he was the target of the strike, but did not confirm if F-15 Strike Eagle fighter jets armed with 225kg bombs had succeeded in killing the notorious Algerian militant.

On Monday, the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia terror group also denied Belmokhtar had been killed in the raids.

It said in a statement that "seven martyrs" died in the strike that targeted a farm near Ajdabiya, some 160km west of Libya's second city of Benghazi.

Belmokhtar, nicknamed variously as "The Uncatchable" and "The One-Eyed", is leader of the North African Al-Murabitoun militant group and a former chief of the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

He allegedly masterminded the 2013 siege of an Algerian gas plant in which 38 hostages, mostly Westerners, were killed.

He was previously thought to have been killed in Mali, but security sources said last year he had moved to Libya.

Libya has descended into chaos since a Nato-backed revolt unseated long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi. It has rival governments and parliaments, with powerful militias battling for influence and a share of its oil wealth.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2015, with the headline 'Al-Qaeda unit denies its former chief was killed in US air strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe