United States warplanes carried out airstrikes against Islamic State militant camps in western Libya early Friday morning, targeting a senior ISIS leader linked to two major terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year.
A U.S. official said the attack was carried near Sabratha, Libya not far from the Tunisian border and “likely killed ISIL operative Noureddine Chouchane,” who is believed to be a Tunisian. The attack also killed up to 30 Islamic State recruits, the official added.
The mayor of the Libyan city of Sabratha, Hussein al-Thwadi, said a building in the city’s Qasr Talil district, west of the capital Tripoli, had been hit by planes at 3:30 a.m. He said 41 people had been killed and six wounded. He added that majority of those killed were Tunisians.
The airstrikes targeted a house in a residential district about 8-km (5 miles) west of the center, according to a statement from municipal authorities, reports Reuters. The house had been rented to foreigners including Tunisians suspected of belonging to Islamic State, and medium caliber weapons including machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were found in the rubble, the statement said.
Chouchane is believed to be linked to the attacks last year on a Tunis museum and a Souse beach resort where dozens of people were killed. An attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis killed 22 people in March and another in June had resulted in deaths of 38 people at a beach in the coastal resort in Sousse.
Chouchane was one of five fugitives for whom the Tunisian Interior Ministry issued arrest warrants after the museum attack. Tunisian security sources have said those two attacks, both claimed by Islamic State, were carried out by gunmen trained in Libya.
It was the second U.S. airstrike in three months against Islamic State in Libya. Earlier in November, the Americans had killed Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi who led the Islamic State?s arm in Libya, in an airstrike on the town of Darnah, in eastern Libya.
Libya, a North African nation, remains in chaos and a hotbed for terrorist groups since the overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The IS group has operated in Libya for about a year now and the US estimates it has up to 6,000 fighters there.