The US military says it launched an air strike targeting the senior leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Libya, where the group has grown stronger in the chaos following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi four years ago.
Saturday’s announcement came as ISIL purportedly said it was responsible for Friday evening’s attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people during suicide bombings and shootings in the French capital, though the Pentagon said the two events were not connected.
The Pentagon said the strike, carried out on Friday, was authorised and planned before the attacks on the same day by fighters and suicide bombers in Paris.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed confidence that Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al-Zubaydi, was killed in the air strike by F-15 aircraft on a compound in the city of Derna.
“[Abu] Nabil’s death will degrade ISIL’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Libya, including recruiting new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya, and planning external attacks on the United States,” Peter Cook, a Pentagon spokesperson, said.
Four years after the overthrow of Gaddafi, ISIL has steadily grown, controlling the city of Sirte, and worrying Western governments who fear it can only become stronger.
ISIL still have some presence in Derna, despite being ousted in July by local Libyan fighters and residents fed up with the presence of foreign fighters.
A witness in Derna told Reuters news agency an aircraft using night-vision systems carried out air strikes in places controlled by ISIL fighters in the city’s southeast suburb of Fattayah.
Abu Nabil, an Iraqi national, was a longtime al-Qaeda operative and the senior ISIL leader in Libya, the Pentagon said.
Cook said it was the first strike against an ISIL leader in Libya.
He also cited reporting suggesting that Nabil might have been the spokesman in a February 2015 Coptic Christian execution video.
ISIL fighters have left their mark on the North African state.
They massacred Christian Egyptians on a Libyan beach, publicly flogged criminals in Sirte, stormed oilfields, and attacked a five-star Tripoli hotel.
US air strikes have targeted fighters outside the main battlefields of Iraq and Syria, but Friday’s raid was significant because of Abu Nabil’s close ties to ISIL’s main leadership, one US official said.
“There’s a lot of people around the world who call themselves ISIL. But those are people who have taken the ISIL brand and there’s no relationship with the home office,” the official said.
“But this guy [Abu Nabil] had a no-kidding relationship back with main ISIL.”