WASHINGTON (AFP) - An F-15 fighter jet strike killed the head of the Islamic State group in Libya, the Pentagon said on Saturday (Nov 14), in another high-profile US hit following the targeting of the most-wanted “Jihadi John”.
The announcement comes as the extremist group said it was responsible for Friday’s attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people during an onslaught of bombings and shootings on the French capital, though the Pentagon said the two events were not connected.
Washington has orchestrated an air campaign going after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and senior figures in Syria and Iraq, but this is the first US strike against an ISIS leader in Libya.
Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi, was the senior ISIS leader in Libya and may also have been the spokesman in a grisly video showing the execution of Coptic Christians, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.
He described Abu Nabil as an Iraqi national and Al-Qaeda operative.
The footage released by ISIS online earlier this year showed handcuffed hostages wearing orange jumpsuits being beheaded by black-suited captors in a coastal area the group said was in the Libyan province of Tripoli.
“Nabil’s death will degrade ISIL’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Libya, including recruiting new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya, and planning external attacks on the United States,” Mr Cook said, using another term for ISIS.
“While not the first US strike against terrorists in Libya, this is the first US strike against an ISIL leader in Libya and it demonstrates we will go after ISIL leaders wherever they operate.”
The Pentagon spokesman said the operation overnight against Abu Nabil was “authorised and initiated prior to the terrorist attack in Paris”.
Oil-rich Libya descended into chaos after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in its 2011 revolution.
ISIS jihadists are killing more civilians than other warring factions in the North African country, but all sides are committing “large-scale crimes”, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said.
The UN has been brokering talks to create a new unity government to end fighting between the army and the militias that seized Tripoli, with the UN envoy to Libya voicing hope that an agreement is imminent.
Saturday’s US announcement came two days after the US military conducted a strike targeting the ISIS executioner known as “Jihadi John”. The US has said it is “reasonably certain” that the militant was killed in a drone strike in Syria.
Mohammed Emwazi, whose masked figure appeared in a string of graphic videos showing the beheading of Western hostages, was targeted in a combined British-US operation in Raqa, the de facto ISIS capital in war-torn Syria.
According to a US official, the attack against Abu Nabil was carried out by US F-15 fighter jets.
The aircraft are the same kind deployed in June to carry out another air strike in Libya which aimed to kill one-eyed Islamist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was linked to Al-Qaeda.
The militant’s death has never been confirmed with certainty.