Ansar al-Sharia denies killing of Abu Iyadh in US raid
TRIPOLI – A source from Ansar al-Sharia terrorist group in Ajdabiya (eastern Libya) denied the killing of Seifallah Ben Hassine nicknamed Abu Iyadh, in a US bombing that hit Ajdabiya on June 14.
Abu Iyadh, the founder of Tunisia's main jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia reported Friday to have been killed in a US air strike in Libya, is a veteran of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Real name Seifallah Ben Hassine, and listed as a "global terrorist" by the United States, he was killed in mid-June, The New York Times reported.
A US official told the daily that 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.
The interior ministry in Tunis, contacted on Friday, said it had "no information on his death".
Despite having said Tunisia was a land for preaching in and not for jihad, Abu Iyadh's group is accused of having committed several acts of violence in the North African country.
Freed under a general amnesty three months after the 2011 revolution, he founded Ansar al-Sharia which was initially tolerated under a government headed by the moderate Islamist movement Ennahda.
But the 49-year-old has been accused of having organised an attack by members of his group on the US embassy in Tunis in September 2012.
He has since been on the run.
Ben Hassine had been on a United Nations blacklist since 2002 over his links to Al-Qaeda.
His release in Tunisia, where he had been jailed in 2003, followed the ouster of secular dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
In August 2013, the government accused him of masterminding the killings in February and July that year of leftist leader Chokri Belaid and MP Mohamed Brahmi, as well as attacks on Tunisian security forces.
The then head of Tunisian national security, Mustapha Ben Kamel, said Ben Hassine's aim was to create chaos in Tunisia, to take power and declare the first "caliphate" in North Africa.
Ben Hassine allegedly fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2001 before travelling to Pakistan and then Turkey where he was arrested and extradited, according to The New York Times.
He was co-founder in 2000 of the Tunisian Fighting Group in Afghanistan.
This group organised the suicide bombing by assailants posing as journalists with a camera bomb who killed Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the resistance to the Taliban.
His murder on September 9, 2001, came just two days before the Al-Qaeda plane attacks against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in the United States.
Ben Hassine is a native of Menzel Bourguiba in northern Tunisia. He became involved in 1980 in a movement which later became Ennahda.
Arrested in Turkey in 2003, he was extradited to his native country where a military court sentenced him to 43 years in prison.
In 2012, while he was still on the run after the US embassy attack, he goaded police by preaching in a mosque in central Tunis.
Despite the presence of a large number of security forces, a dense crowd of his supporters hid him among their number to evade the police cordon.