Libya's Ansar al-Sharia chief dead: Islamist websites

AFP , Saturday 24 Jan 2015

The head of Libya's Ansar al-Sharia jihadist group, whose fate has been a mystery since fighting in October, was mortally wounded then, Islamist websites and an army officer said Saturday.

Mohamed al-Zehawi "was killed in Benina clashes near the Benghazi airport, southeast of the city," the Islamist militias February 17 Martyrs and Rafallah al-Sahati Brigades said on Facebook.

A source at the shura council of Benghazi rebels also confirmed his death to AFP saying "Zehawi was killed in the Benina clashes on October 11.

"He was buried in Sirte (west of the city) after efforts to save his live failed because he had received a direct hit in the chest and was suffering from diabetes," the source added.

An army officer, who did not wish to be named, said the military learned of Zehawi's death from an "Ansar al-Sharia militant who was made prisoner and who confirmed the news."

Islamist websites have also posted pictures allegedly showing Zehawi dead and another one purported of him in a shroud.

Zehawi's fate has been a mystery since October clashes between pro-government forces and Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi killed dozens.

In mid-October, during a government-backed counter-offensive against Islamists who had overrun much of Benghazi, one battled took place in Al-Majouri, a central district and Zehawi's home.

Medical sources reported more than 20 dead on October 17 alone, mostly soldiers and civilian backers, but the Islamists, as always, did not reveal any toll.

Ansar al-Sharia is classified by the United States and the United Nations as a terrorist organisation. It has branches in Benghazi, in the eastern city of Derna, and in Sirte, in central Libya.

Zehawi, who was jailed under the regime of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, took part in the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed the strongman.

He had also fought in Al-Qaeda ranks in Afghanistan.

Washington believes the group is responsible for the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

In November, the United Nations blacklisted Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi and its sister group ,Ansar al-Sharia Derna, over links to Al-Qaeda and for running camps for the Islamist State group.

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