Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar's killing in Libya denied

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Media captionMokhtar Belmokhtar had a reputation for being elusive, as Mike Woodridge reports

A militant Islamist group in Libya has denied that a US air strike killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of North Africa's most feared jihadists.

Ansar al-Sharia named seven people it said were killed in the strike in the eastern Libyan city of Ajdabiya. The list excluded Belmokhtar.

Libya's Tobruk-based government said on Monday that Belmokhtar had been killed.

He was the mastermind of the 2013 siege of an Algerian gas plant, killing 40 people, most of them foreigners.

An al-Qaeda loyalist, Belmokhtar was an Algerian who operated across the vast Sahara desert.

"While we eulogise these heroes... we deny the killing of any other personalities besides those whom we have named who are sons of this land [Libya]," Reuters news agency reports quotes the statement on Ansar al-Sharia's Twitter account as saying.

The statement's authenticity could not be independently verified.

On Monday, US defence officials stopped short of confirming Belmokhtar's death.

"The actual impact of that raid is still being assessed," US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said.

The US said Belmokhtar was targeted and the strike was successful, but it was analysing the operation's results and would give details "as appropriate".

Belmokhtar's death has been reported many times in the past.

He was once a senior figure in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and had been sentenced to death in absentia in Algeria for numerous attacks.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar

Image copyright SITE INTEL GROUP
Image caption Belmokhtar has been seen speaking before an operation in Niger
  • Known as "the One-Eyed", as he often wore an eye patch, also as "Mr Marlboro", as he used cigarette smuggling to finance his jihad
  • Fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the late 1980s
  • A former leading figure in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), but left after falling out with its leaders
  • Went on to lead the Islamist militia group al-Murabitoun, which has attacked local and international forces in Mali

Profile of Belmokhtar

How do you verify a militant's death?

The US filed terror charges against Belmokhtar and officials believed he remained a threat to Western interests.

"Belmokhtar has a long history of leading terrorist activities as a member of AQIM, is the operational leader of the al-Qaeda-associated al-Murabitoun organisation in north-west Africa, and maintains his personal allegiance to al-Qaeda," Pentagon spokesman Col Steve Warren said.

Libyan's internationally recognised Tobruk-based government said the strike came after consultation with the US. Their statement said it resulted in the death of the "terrorist Belmokhtar".

Libya has been in chaos since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, with its parliament forced to operate in the eastern port.

A rival parliament, the Islamist-dominated General National Congress, is nearly 1,000km (620 miles) to the west in Tripoli.

Rival militias have been battling to fill the power vacuum, with IS militants fighting other Islamists in the east.

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