The U.S. launched airstrikes in eastern Libya targeting a terrorist leader who was behind a 2013 attack on a gas plant in Algeria that killed at least 38 hostages, including three Americans, the Pentagon said Sunday.
The airstrikes against veteran Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar were carried out by U.S. aircraft Saturday, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
The Libyan government said the strikes were successful and killed Belmokhtar and several others in Ajdabiya, according to the Associated Press.
An Islamist with ties to extremists, however, claims the strikes missed Belmokhtar who was not at the site that was targeted, and instead killed four militants, the AP reported.
“Belmokhtar has a long history of leading terrorist activities,” Warren said in a statement Sunday. He said Belmokhtar “maintains his personal allegiance” to al-Qaeda and “poses a continuing threat to U.S. persons.”
Two F-15 fighters launched multiple 500-pound bombs in the attack, an unnamed Pentagon official told the AP.
Federal law enforcement officials charged Belmokhtar, an Algerian national, with terrorism after the 2013 Algerian attack, including conspiring to support al-Qaeda, the use of a weapon of mass destruction, conspiring to take hostages and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Those charges are punishable by death.
Belmokhtar, known as “the one-eyed sheik” because he lost his left eye in combat, was considered a threat to American and Western interests in the region.
Belmokhtar “unleashed a reign of terror years ago, in furtherance of his self-proclaimed goal of waging bloody jihad against the West,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said when the charges were filed.
Libyan officials said they consulted with the U.S. before the strike.
Instability and violence have plagued Libya, as the country is divided between the internationally recognized government that is based in the far eastern side of the country near the Egyptian border and an Islamic government supported by militias that seized Tripoli last August.
Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants have strengthened their footholds in the country as a result of the chaos. The two terrorist groups have recently been fighting over resources and recruits there.
This was the first airstrike the U.S. has conducted in Libya since the 2011 NATO mission that helped oust Moammar Gadhafi.