WASHINGTON: A top Tunisian militant and associate of late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by a US airstrike in Libya last month, The New York Times reported.
Seifallah Ben Hassine, listed as a “global terrorist” by the US, was killed mid-June in an airstrike that targeted a top al Qaeda-linked militant, the paper said.
Ben Hassine is believed to have coordinated a string of assassinations, including the killing of famed Afghan anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Masood in 2001.
Tunisian officials also accused the leader of the banned Ansar al-Sharia group of directing the killings of two secular Tunisian politicians in 2013, the paper reported.
He was further suspected of leading an attack on the US Embassy in Tunis in September 2012, days after an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the paper said.
He had been based in Libya since 2013.
Tunisian station Radio Mosaique first reported Ben Hassine’s death, which The New York Times said it had confirmed with an official in Washington.
The official said Ben Hassine died in a strike that targeted Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a top al Qaeda-linked militant believed to have masterminded a deadly attack on an Algerian gas plant in 2013.
Libya’s government reported at the time that Belmokhtar was killed in the attack but al Qaeda’s North Africa branch denied it.
Hassine, also known as Abu Ayadh, had been on a United Nations blacklist since 2002 over his links to al Qaeda.
He was imprisoned in Tunisia in 2003 but released under an amnesty after the ouster of secular dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
He allegedly fought alongside Bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2001 before travelling to Pakistan and then Turkey where he was arrested and extradited, the newspaper reported.