Libyan official: French strike targeted al-Qaida recruiter

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) " The Libyan army said Thursday that a French airstrike targeted a top al-Qaida recruiter who was reportedly killed earlier this week in southern Libya.

Spokesman Ahmed al-Mosmari told The Associated Press that the airstrike hit a house owned by Abu-Talha al-Hassnawi near the southern city of Sabha on Tuesday. He said it is not yet clear if al-Hassnawi, a top recruiter for Syria-bound fighters, was killed.

He said the French were monitoring militants from al-Qaida's North African affiliate as part of the "ongoing cooperation to exterminate the extremists."

A Libyan news agency earlier this week reported that al-Hassnawi was killed in a drone strike. Witnesses said the strike killed seven people. French officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Heavy fighting was meanwhile underway in the eastern city of Benghazi, where forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter are battling Islamic militants. Al-Mosmari said 33 of his forces were killed and dozens wounded over the past 24 hours as they pushed into a key district, but predicted the battle would be over soon.

"The militants will find themselves with nowhere to go but the sea," he said.

Forces loyal to a U.N.-brokered government based in the capital, Tripoli, are battling Islamic State militants in the central coastal city of Sirte. Hifter is allied with the Libyan parliament, which is based in the country's far east and does not recognize the Western-backed government in Tripoli.

Libya sank in chaos after the 2011 ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The two rival governments are backed by various militias and tribes.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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