US air strike on Libya kills two abducted Serbia nationals

Friday 19/02/2016
Two embassy employees who were kidnapped in November

BELGRADE - A US strike on an Islamic State jihadist camp in Libya killed two Serbian embassy employees who were kidnapped in the area in November, Serbia\'s foreign minister said Saturday.
\"Unfortunately as a consequence of this attack on the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya, the two of them lost their lives,\" Ivica Dacic told reporters, referring to Friday\'s air strike.
Embassy communications chief Sladjana Stankovic and her driver Jovica Stepic were kidnapped on November 8 in the coastal city of Sabratha, 70 kilometres (42 miles) west of Tripoli, from a convoy of cars heading to the Tunisian border.
The US strike, which targeted a jihadist training camp near Sabratha, killed dozens of people, probably including Noureddine Chouchane, a senior ISIS group operative behind attacks in Tunisia, US officials said Friday.
It was the second US air raid in the violence-wracked North African country targeting the fast-expanding jihadist group in the past three months.
Belgrade maintains an embassy in Tripoli, and Serbian citizens, mostly doctors and other medical staff as well as construction workers, have been working in Libya for decades due to close bilateral relations during Gaddafi\'s regime.
Pentagon said on Friday that it had targeted the Islamic State training camp.
\"Destruction of the camp and Chouchane\'s removal will eliminate an experienced facilitator and is expected to have an immediate impact on ISIL\'s ability to facilitate its activities in Libya, including recruiting new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya, and potentially planning external attacks on US interests in the region,\" the Pentagon said, using an acronym for Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh.
US officials said Chouchane is most likely dead but White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he could not yet confirm the results of the air assault. He said the raid showed US willingness to fight Islamic State.
\"It\'s an indication that the president will not hesitate to take these kinds of forceful, decisive actions,\" Earnest said.
In Libya, photos released by the municipal authorities showed a massive crater in grey earth. Several wounded men lay bandaged in hospital.
The mayor of Sabratha, Hussein al-Thwadi, said the planes hit a building in the city\'s Qasr Talil district, home to many foreigners.
Locals officials said 43 people were killed.
The strikes targeted a house in a residential district west of the centre, municipal authorities said in a statement.
The house had been rented to foreigners including Tunisians suspected of belonging to Islamic State, and medium-calibre weapons including machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades had been found in the rubble, the statement said.
The air strikes came just days after a warning by President Barack Obama that Washington intended to \"take actions where we\'ve got a clear operation and a clear target in mind\" against Islamic State.
Britain said it had authorised the use of its airbases to launch the attack.
Islamic State runs a self-styled caliphate across swathes of Iraq and Syria, where it has faced air strikes from a US-led coalition since 2014.
Since Gaddafi was overthrown five years ago by rebel forces backed by NATO air strikes, Libya has slipped deeper into chaos, with two rival governments each backed by competing factions of former rebel brigades.
A UN-backed government of national accord is trying to win support, but is still awaiting parliamentary approval. It is opposed by factional hardliners and has yet to establish itself in the capital Tripoli.
Islamic State has expanded, attacking oil ports and taking over Gaddafi\'s home city of Sirte, now the militant group\'s most important stronghold outside its main redoubts in Syria and Iraq.
Calls have increased for a swift Western response to stop the group establishing itself more permanently and using Libya as a base for attacks on neighbours Tunisia and Egypt.
Western officials and diplomats have said air strikes and special forces operations are possible as well as an Italian-led \"security stabilisation\" plan of training and advising.
US and European officials have in the past insisted Libyans must first form a united government and ask for help, but they also say they may still carry out unilateral action if needed.
The United States estimates that the number of militants directly affiliated with Islamic State or sympathetic to it now operating in Libya is in the \"low thousands,\" or less than 5,000, a US government source said.
Last November the United States carried out an air strike on the Libyan town of Derna, close to the Egyptian border, to kill Abu Nabil, an Iraqi commander in Islamic State.
A US air strike targeted veteran Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar and other jihadists meeting in eastern Libya last June. His fate is unclear.