US warplanes have carried out air strikes targeting fighters aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Libya, killing dozens of people, possibly including a senior leader of the armed group.
US military sources told AFP news agency the operation hit an ISIL training camp early on Friday and was aimed at killing Noureddine Chouchane, a Tunisian accused of helping to organise two attacks on tourists last year.
Following the announcement, Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary, issued the statement identifying Chouchane as “an ISIL senior facilitator in Libya associated with the training camp”.
“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,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington DC, said two F-15 US air force jets were involved in the strike.
A local Libyan official also confirmed that a safe house was destroyed in the dawn raid in Sabratha about 70km west of Tripoli, located near the border with Tunisia.
“The raid killed 41 people who were all inside the house,” Hussein al-Dawadi, an official in the city, told AFP.
He said most of those who were killed were Tunisians, who were “probably members” of ISIL.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis, said the country’s foreign ministry has confirmed the attack, but did not comment on the reported deaths of Tunisian nationals.
She also reported that Libyan authorities in Tunisia confirmed that Tunisians and Algerians were among the dead. At least six other Tunisians were reportedly injured.
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama pledged not to let ISIL build a base in Libya.
Libya marks five years since start of revolution
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Hillary Mann Leverett, a former White House official, said the high death toll raises some questions about how “focused” the attack was.
She cautioned that recruitment could surge following the attack.
“The problem is, for each one of these targeted killing, what we have seen in the data that at least two more people sign up to join” ISIL, she said.
In July, an attack on a beach resort near the Tunisian city of Sousse killed 38 tourists, including 30 Britons.
That followed an attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in March that killed 21 tourists and a policeman.
Both attacks were claimed by ISIL, which the US and its allies are also targeting with air strikes in Syria and Iraq.
In November, a US air strike in Libya killed an ISIL leader, Abu Nabil, an Iraqi also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi.
It was the first US strike against an ISIL leader in the North African country, where a US official estimated this month that the armed group has about 5,000 fighters.
ISIL has exploited the turmoil in Libya since the overthrow of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi five years ago, raising fears that it is establishing a new stronghold on Europe’s doorstep.[Source: Al-Jazeera]