January 23, 2015 / 2:13 PM / 3 years ago

Leader of Libyan Islamists Ansar al-Sharia dies of wounds

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - The leader of Libyan Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia has died of wounds suffered when fighting pro-government troops several months ago, his family and officials said on Friday.

Mohamed al-Zahawi, who founded a brigade of Ansar in Benghazi after helping to oust Muammar Gaddafi 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-Sharia.

There had been speculation for months over Zahawi’s fate, after he disappeared from public view.

The United States blames Ansar al-Sharia 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-Sharia 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 Gaddafi 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-Thinni has been forced to work out of the east since a faction called Libya Dawn seized Tripoli in August.

Reporting by Libya staff; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Roche

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