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Libyan Militants Deny Belmokhtar Killed in US Airstrike

FILE - Veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar speaks in this undated still image taken from a video released by Sahara Media, Jan. 21, 2013.

An al-Qaida-linked group in Libya released a list Tuesday with names of those it says died in a U.S. airstrike, but did not include Mohktar Belmokhtar, the main target of the bombing.

Ansar al-Shariah's statement denied that anyone else was killed.

The bombings were the first American airstrikes in Libya since the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. U.S. officials have not confirmed the death of Belmokhtar, who was a senior leader in al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) before starting his own group known as Signers in Blood Battalion in 2012.

The U.S. has accused him of leading the 2013 attack on a gas facility in Algeria that killed 37 people, including three Americans. U.S. federal prosecutors charged Belmokhtar with multiple terrorism-related crimes after the bombing, including conspiring to support al-Qaida, using a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiring to take hostages.

"Anytime a leadership figure is removed, it certainly impacts the organization," Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters in Washington on Monday, adding Belmokhtar was still affiliated with core al-Qaida members.

If confirmed, his death "will do little to address the broader chaos in Libya," the Soufan Group, a New York-based security analysis firm, said in a statement, but it "will remove a dangerous individual from a crowded battlefield and bring a sense of justice to the families of Belmokhtar’s many victims."

Libya has been in a state of political upheaval since a NATO-backed revolt pushed longtime dictator Gadhafi from power in 2011. Militants and militias have exploited the situation by grabbing territory as an internationally recognized government battles for power with one declared by Islamic militants.

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