Libyan Islamist group leader dies of wounds
Mohammad al-Zahawi was a leader of Ansar al-Shariah, the Islamist group blamed for the attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012. (AFP/File)
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The leader of Libyan Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah has died of wounds suffered when fighting pro-government troops several months ago, his family and officials said Friday.
Mohammad al-Zahawi, who founded a brigade of Ansar in Benghazi after helping to oust Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, had been in hospital since he was hurt, members of his family told Reuters.
Fadhl al-Hassi, a Libyan military commander, said Zahawi had died from wounds sustained in an ambush in September.
“I saw myself how he got wounded in his car,” he said.
There was no immediate statement from Ansar al-Shariah.
There had been speculation for months over Zahawi’s fate, after he disappeared from public view.
The United States blames Ansar al-Shariah for an assault on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Former army general Khalifa Haftar declared war on Ansar al-Shariah in May, pushing it out of much of the eastern city.
Fighting is still going on between Haftar’s troops, which have now merged with regular army forces, and Islamist fighters in the port area and other districts of Benghazi.
The struggle is part of a wider conflict between former rebel groups who helped topple Gadhafi and are now competing for control of the major oil producer.
Libya has two rival governments and parliaments. The internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani has been forced to work out of the east since a faction called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August.
A new round of peace talks between Libya’s warring factions will possibly take place in Geneva next week, the United Nations said Friday.
There is no confirmation yet where or when the next round of Libyan peace talks will take place, but “there is a possibility that they come back to Geneva next week,” UN. spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian told reporters.
During a first round of U.N.-mediated discussions in the Swiss city last week, warring factions from the strife-torn country agreed on a road map to form a unity government.
Following the agreement, Libya’s army and the Libya Dawn militia alliance declared a truce.
The U.N.’s Libya mission welcomed the cease-fire as a “significant contribution” to the country’s peace process and called on all parties to work with UNSMIL to “ensure compliance” with the truce.
UNSMIL envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, warned as the Geneva talks opened last week that they were a last-ditch effort to prevent all-out chaos.
Leon also underscored the threat of Libya becoming a hotbed of Islamist insurgency, echoing concerns by Libyan officials and world leaders.
The internationally recognized government and elected parliament decamped last summer to the country’s far east after Fajr Libya seized Tripoli and set up its own administration. The militia alliance also holds Misrata and launched a bloody offensive in December to seize key oil terminals but was repelled by the army.