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Former IS Sirte leader killed in US airstrike in Libya

The US airstrike struck a vehicle in Libya, killing the former leader [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 August, 2018

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The US military said it carried out an airstrike in Libya, killing an Islamic State member described by a source as a former local leader of the jihadist group.

A former leader of the Islamic State militant group was killed in a US airstrike on Libya, the US military said.

Walid Hariba, the former IS leader in the city of Sirte, was was killed after an"unidentified aircraft" targeted a pickup truck around four kilometres from the town, a source within the Bani Walid security services said.

The US Africa Command said it "conducted a precision airstrike near Bani Walid, Libya, on August 28, killing one ISIS-Libya terrorist," referring to the Islamic State group.

The strike around 170 kilometres (105 miles) southeast of the capital Tripoli was coordinated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord, the US military said.

"At this time, we assess no civilians were injured or killed in this strike," the US African Command (AFRICOM) said in a statement.

In June 2015 IS jihadists overran the city, 600 kilometres east of Tripoli, and Hariba reportedly fled when they were ousted the following December.

A hospital official in Bani Walid said they had received Hariba's remains which were later released to the family, confirming his identity.

Despite being driven from Sirte by government forces and allied militias, IS remains active in Libya.

The US military regularly carries out airstrikes in the country, and on June 6 said it had killed four members of an IS affiliate near Bani Walid.

Just days later AFRICOM said one "terrorist" had been killed in another such attack 80 kilometres southeast of Bani Walid, in a June 14 operation targeting Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In March US forces said they had killed Musa Abu Dawud, a high-ranking AQIM official, in an air strike in southern Libya.

‘Proto-state to terrorist network’

With its physical caliphate largely destroyed, the Islamic State movement is transforming from a "proto-state" to a covert "terrorist" network, "a process that is most advanced in Iraq" because it still controls pockets in Syria, according to a UN report.

The report, penned by UN experts, said the Islamic State group still may have up to 30,000 members roughly equally distributed between Syria and Iraq, and its global network poses a rising threat.

It said that despite the near-defeat of IS in Iraq and most of Syria, it is likely that a reduced "covert version" of the militant group's "core" will survive in both countries, with significant affiliated supporters in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa.

The estimate of between 20,000 and 30,000 members includes "a significant component of the many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters," it said.

While many IS fighters, planners and commanders have been killed in fighting, and many other fighters and supporters have left the immediate conflict zone, the experts said many still remain in the two countries — some engaged militarily "and others hiding out in sympathetic communities and urban areas.”

The experts said the discipline imposed by IS remains intact and IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "remains in authority" despite reports that he was injured.

"It is just more delegated than before, by necessity, to the wider network outside the conflict zone," the experts said.

The flow of foreign fighters to IS in Syria and Iraq has come to a halt, they said, but "the reverse flow, although slower than expected, remains a serious challenge."

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