A US military airstrike has killed the Islamic State’s leader in Libya, the Pentagon said on Saturday. The target of the strike was named as “Abu Nabil, aka Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi national who was a long-time al-Qaida operative”.
The Pentagon said Nabil’s death “will degrade [Isis’s] ability to meet the group’s objectives in Libya”.
The news followed the suicide bomb and shooting attacks in Paris on Friday night in which, the Paris prosecutor said later on Saturday , 129 people were killed and 352 injured, 99 of them critically.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, and a White House statement said a National Security Council briefing of President Obama “had no information to contradict the initial French assessment of [Isis] responsibility”.
In a statement on the airstrike, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said: “This operation was authorised and initiated prior to the terrorist attack in Paris.”
Cook’s statement said: “On 13 November [Friday], the US military conducted an airstrike in Libya against Abu Nabil, [also known as] Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi national who was a long-time al-Qaida operative and the senior [Isis] leader in Libya.”
The statement said Nabil had been killed in the strike, which US officials told Reuters was carried out by two F-15 aircraft.
“Reporting suggests [Nabil] may also have been the spokesman in the February 2015 Coptic Christian execution video,” the statement continued, referring to a video which showed the beheading of 21 Copts , most of them Egyptian, and prompted international outrage. Egypt bombed the city of Sirte, Libya, where the executions took place.
“Nabil’s death will degrade [Isis’s] ability to meet the group’s objectives in Libya,” Cook continued, “including recruiting new [Isis] members, establishing bases in Libya, and planning external attacks on the United States.
“While not the first US strike against terrorists in Libya, this is the first US strike against an [Isis] leader in Libya and it demonstrates we will go after [Isis] leaders wherever they operate.”
The US military has also said it is “reasonably confident” that a Hellfire missile fired from a drone over the Syrian city of Raqqa on Thursday killedMohammed Emwazi , the British man who came to be known as Jihadi John and who was filmed murdering a number of hostages held by Isis.
Four years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Isis has steadily grown in Libya, controlling Sirte. For the past week, residents there and in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, have reported US drones and spy planes orbiting above.
Sirte, birthplace of Gaddafi, has become the springboard for Isis raids into the Sirte Basin, home of Libya’s largest concentration of oil fields. Five oil workers from an Austrian company kidnapped in the area in March remain missing and most production is at a standstill.
Friday’s strike was the first use of US jets in Libya since June 2014, when F-15s struck what the Pentagon said was a gathering of senior al-Qaida leaders from across north Africa in Ajdabiya, near the eastern city of Benghazi.
Washington has grown concerned that Libya has become a “third front” for Isis, with terror experts saying the group is trying to replicate its success in Iraq and Syria in smuggling oil to raise finance.
The group has taken advantage of the chaos of Libya’s ongoing civil war, in which rival governments based in Tripoli and the eastern town of Tobruk have been fighting each other for the past year.
Concern about Isis in Libya has grown in Egypt and Tunisia. Tunisia says the suicide attacker who killed 38 tourists, 30 of them British, in Sousse in June was trained in Libya’s western Isis base, outside Sabratha.
The airstrikes may have been prompted by the recent collapse of United Nations peace talks intended to end the civil war, amid concern that with the country’s chaos set to continue, Isis will expand into the vacuum.