UPDATE: 12:50 p.m. EST — U.S. officials said they believed, but could not be certain, that Noureddine Chouchane, a leader linked to two attacks in Tunisia last year, was killed in airstrikes in Libya Friday. The airstrikes reportedly targeted a camp where foreign fighters with the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, were learning to fight. Some 40 people were killed.
Chouchane, a Tunisian national, was suspected in two major attacks last year, including the Sousse attacks that killed more than 30 British nationals on a Tunisian beach resort. He was said to be a key operative in the group.
— Kris Sanchez (@KrisNBC) February 19, 2016
“He facilitated the movement of potential ISIL-affiliated foreign fighters from Tunisia to Libya and onward to other countries," Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman, said in a Friday statement, using an alternative acronym for the extremist group. It was immediately unclear whether Friday’s airstrikes were the start of a longer-term campaign.
“This strike demonstrates we will go after [ISIS] whenever it is necessary, using the full range of tools at our disposal,” he said.
UPDATE: 7:10 a.m. EST — A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that the airstrikes were conducted and that they were targeted against a Tunisian militant linked to attacks in Tunisia last year, a report by Reuters said. As many as 40 people were killed in the airstrike, the Reuters report added.
U.S. warplanes attacked an Islamic State group camp in Libya Friday, killing over 30 recruits, according to a New York Times report that cited a Western official. The airstrikes were targeting a senior Tunisian operative connected to two key terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year.
The camp was set up near Sabratha, west of Tripoli, and many of those killed are believed to be Tunisians, the official told the Times. Intelligence officials were still trying to establish if the operative being targeted, Noureddine Chouchane, was among the dead.
Chouchane was believed to be a major facilitator for ISIS, and was linked to an attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in March last year that killed 22 people, and another in June at a beach in the coastal resort in Sousse, which killed 38 people, the Times reported. Jamal Naji Zubia, the head of the foreign news media office in Tripoli, confirmed that the airstrikes were aimed at a farmhouse, nearly nine miles outside Sabratha. The place was believed to have been seized by ISIS militants.
Zubia said, according to the Times, that fighters had been camping at the farmhouse for quite some time, but locals were not clear about their affiliations. “They came individually to the house from different places,” Zubia said, according to Times. The report added that some of the neighbors were under the impression that the Tunisian nationals were gathered there for a speech by a Muslim religious leader.
The Western official told the Times that Chouchane was the sole target of Friday's attack, and that it was not the beginning of a new American war in Libya.
However, Washington and its allies have been seeking to increase their offensive against ISIS fighters in Libya. Special Operations teams from the U.S. and the U.K. have increased their exploration in Libya to find out more about militant leaders there and their networks.
U.S. President Barack Obama said last week, according to the Times, “With respect to Libya, I have been clear from the outset that we will go after ISIS wherever it appears, the same way that we went after Al Qaeda wherever they appeared,” adding: “We will continue to take actions where we’ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind.”
He also said: “As we see opportunities to prevent ISIS from digging in, in Libya, we take them.”