The Pentagon announced Saturday a U.S. airstrike killed the leader of ISIS in Libya Abu Nabil, aka Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi.
The announcement confirms The Daily Beast's original report that the U.S. targeted a senior member of the group on Friday, according to two senior U.S. administration officials.
The strike, which was carried out by F-15 aircraft, marks the first time the U.S. has directly gone after ISIS outside of Iraq or Syria.
The strike hit Wisam al Zubaidi, a.k.a. Abu Nabil al Anbarian, an Iraqi national who once led al Qaeda operations in part of Iraq.At some point after that, he moved to eastern Libya to lead ISIS operations there.
The strike in Libya is completely unrelated to the series of terror attacks that took place across Paris Friday night, leaving at least 127 people dead, said the senior official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and therefore requested anonymity.
French President Francois Hollande said Saturday that ISIS carried out the wave of terror attacks in Paris. The group itself claimed responsibility Saturday, calling the attacks “miracles” in a written statement.
Friday’s airstrike in Libya is likely to get buried in the news coming out of Paris, but it does signify a new chapter in the US fight against ISIS.
As in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has thrived off the chaos and violence in Libya, and has taken control of the city of Sirte. ISIS is believed to have hundreds of Libyan fighters in its ranks, and as the group looked to expand beyond Iraq and Syria, it urged them to return home with their frontline experience.
The group’s presence in Libya caught the world’s attention in February, when it videotaped the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach, prompting Cairo to launch airstrikes in response.
Despite its successes in the country, ISIS does face challenges in Libya. For example, virtually all of Libya’s Muslims are Sunni, meaning the country doesn’t have the same sectarian tension found in Iraq and Syria, which ISIS has used to its advantage. It also faces stiff competition from other longstanding Islamist groups, including al Qaeda. Local fighters ousted the group from the city of Derna in June.
In the US, expanding airstrikes into Libya could fuel those in Congress arguing for a new authorization for use of military force (AUMF).
“If we’re going to go to war in Libya, I want to vote for war in Libya. If we’re going to go to war in Nigeria, I want to vote for war in Nigeria,” Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul said at a Senate hearing in March.
His comments came after the White House submitted a proposal for a new AUMF last spring that left the geographic parameters of the fight against ISIS wide open.
With Friday’s airstrike in Libya, it’s clear why the White House was seeking that kind of flexibility.