The U.S. carries out an airstrike in Libya
The target was a veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar
Libyans say Belmokhtar was killed; U.S. still assessing
U.S. planes carried out a strike inside Libya on Sunday, reportedly killing a key terror figure in North Africa, U.S. and Libyan officials said.
The target was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Islamist fighter, who is blind in one eye, affiliated with al Qaeda in North Africa, a U.S. official told CNN.
The Libyan government said Belmokhtar was killed in the strike, something that U.S. officials have not confirmed.
Federal prosecutors in New York had charged Belmokhtar in 2013 with crimes related to a brazen attack on a gas facility in Algeria were 37 hostages died. Three Americans were among the dead.
Two F-15 fighter jets dropped multiple 500-pound bombs on a hardened structure in the center of a compound, multiple U.S. defense officials told CNN.
U.S. aerial intelligence assets were tracking Belmokhtar’s movements at the time of the raid, a Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the operation told CNN, but the outcome of the operation was still being assessed.
The initial indication was that Belmokhtar had been killed, the U.S. officials said, but they still lacked an absolute confirmation.
The Libyan government went further in a statement Sunday, saying that the U.S. airstrike “led to the killing of Moktar Belmokhtar and a group of Libyans who are members of a terrorist organization in Eastern Libya.”
The strike happened at 2 a.m. Sunday (8 p.m. ET Saturday).
In New York, Belmokhtar was charged on various conspiracy counts including hostage-taking, kidnapping, providing material support to al Qaeda and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
The Signed-in-Blood Battalion
Belmokhtar is the founder of the Signed-in-Blood Battalion, also known as the al-Mulathamun Battalion. The group claimed responsibility for the January 2013 attack in Algeria.
In the Algerian siege, heavily armed militants in pickups struck a sprawling state-owned natural gas complex near In Amenas, gathered the Westerners who worked there into a group and tied them up.
Belmokhtar had said the attack was in retaliation for Algeria allowing France to use its airspace to battle Islamist militants in Mali.
The Algerian military tried to negotiate with the militants during the standoff, but their demands to release militants held prisoner in Algeria were deemed unreasonable, leading to intervention by special forces troops.
The gas facility operated in cooperation with foreign energy firms such as Norway’s Statoil and Britain’s BP – and as such, employed workers from several Western countries.
CNN’s Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.