Belmokhtar Likely Escaped US Attack, and the Bizarre Aftermath

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According to the Libyan government of Tobruk, the Algerian militant group leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, head of al-Mourabitoun, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in eastern Libya. However, there is no evidence of his killing and the US authorities have not confirmed his death. Although the Libyan government was the only source on the alleged death of Belmokhtar, the international press went on to report it widely as if it were a fact.

A coalition of Islamist militant groups in Ajdabia, which includes Ansar ESharia, published a list of 7 people who killed as a result of the American raid, a list that does not include Belmokhtar.  Photos of the site and bodies of those killed were released by the militants on Twitter, without any hint of Belmokhtar being among them.

The American raid is reported to have taken place on the night of Saturday 14, 2015 (about 2 AM Libya time), which claimed the lives of 6 or 7 Libyan militants close to Belmokhtar, and wounded at least a Tunisian and Yemeni nationals said to be close aids to Belkmokhtar.

Bizarre Aftermath:

The raid which took place around 2 AM targeted a villa in the eastern city of Adjadbia, where Belmokhtar was supposed to be meeting with his men. After the attack, the wounded were evacuated to the local hostpical, Mohamed M’Geirif Medical Center, but what came next was an attack against the hospital organized by Al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar Al-Sharia to free the wounded militants. The Ansar Al-Sharia raid on the hospital led to death of 7 people during the confrontation.

Deep Divisions, More Tension Ahead:

Belmokhtar, the mastermind of the attack on the Algerian gas facility in Tigentourine in 2013, will continue to remain illusive and one of the most wanted men by the American military. He is worth $5 million, a sum the US State Department is willing to spend for his elimination. However, as the situation deteriorates in Libya, Belmokhtar may be seen by different players through different eyes and calculations.

Because he remains loyal to al-Qaeda, and refuses to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), he remains an important card in organizing the fight against IS. So while he is sought by many, the search-and-detroy operation against Belmokhtar may slowdown a bit as he organizes resistance vs. IS. For some, the more these two fights, the better.

Divisions are not just among the mega-Islamist groups. They are within as well. Within the Belmokhtar organization, Al-Mourabitoun, divisions are crippling.  The second man in command, Adnan Abou Walid Al-Sahraoui, has recently vowed loyalty to the Islamic State time and again in the last 2 months. This contradiction to his boss showed that the organization’s leadership is divided.  Any take over of the leadership by Sahraoui would represent a major victory for the IS, that has been working hard to push for greater collaboration between its Tunisian, Libyan and Algerian offshoots to strike a blow to the region’s fragile stability. So in some sense, Belmokhtar will always have protectors in some circles to perpetuate the state of chaos that exists with the militant groups.

Outlook:

As we look into the future, these events do not bode well for Libya, and indeed for the whole region. Fighting between various Islamist groups in Libya and with the Libyan army has intensified, and that will likely persist. Efforts to find a political solution to the ongoing onslaught have failed, as predicted. The Libya risk will continue to be high as the multi-faceted conflict will persist.