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US Jets Hit IS Camp in Libya, Target 'Likely Killed'

by Carla Babb February 19, 2016

U.S. warplanes attacked an Islamic State training camp in western Libya Friday, near the border with Tunisia, hitting their main target and killing dozens of terrorist recruits.

Defense officials in Washington said the airstrike likely killed a senior figure in the Islamic State group, Noureddine Chouchane, who was linked to two major terrorist incidents in Tunisia last year: attacks on a museum in Tunis and a beach resort outside the capital, which together killed at least 60 people.

The U.S. raid was aimed at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Sabratha, about 75 kilometers west of Tripoli on Libya's Mediterranean coast. The airstrike, launched before dawn, killed up to 40 people, local reports indicated.

Most of the casualties were believed to be Islamic State recruits, according to American officials who asked not to be identified.

The mayor of Sabratha said many of the dead were Tunisians who had recently arrived at the training camp.

At least one Jordanian was among the victims, the mayor told journalists, and there were a number of survivors.

US attack

Friday's action was at least the second American attack on IS in Libya in the past three months. In November, a raid in eastern Libya killed an Iraqi known as Abu Nabil, whom U.S. officials said was the head of IS operations in Libya.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama said U.S. forces will take action against Islamic State in Libya 'where we've got a clear operation and a clear target in mind.'

'We are working with our coalition partners,' Obama said on Tuesday, 'to make sure that as we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them.'

Islamic State has expanded operations in North Africa markedly during the past year, taking advantage of the chaos and political uncertainty in Libya since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed five years ago, in 2011.

The terror group also has been active in Tunisia, which borders Libya on the west.

Tunisian national

U.S. defense officials said the raid specifically targeted Chouchane, who was a Tunisian national, and did not represent the beginning of a major new offensive in the region. The New York Times reported that reconnaissance drones, satellites and other surveillance tools had been monitoring the walled compound in Sabratha for weeks before Air Force jets were ordered to strike early Friday.

Chouchane was believed to have had a central role in an attack on the National Bardo Museum that killed 22 people in Tunis 11 months ago, and a bloodbath that killed 38 people in June at a coastal resort in Sousse. Foreign tourists were among the victims in both incidents.

Tunisian authorities named Chouchane as one of five fugitivers they were seeking after the museum attack.

The U.S. official who provided background details of Friday's raid said the airstrikes were focused on Islamic State's Chouchane, and did not represent the start of major new American war in a Muslim country. Air Force F-15E jets carried out the attack.

William Gallo contributed to this report.

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