June 18, 2015 / 8:16 AM / 2 years ago

France says can't confirm Algerian fighter killed in U.S. strike

Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar is seen in an undated picture from the U.S. Department of Justice. TUS Department of Justice/Handout

PARIS (Reuters) - Algerian Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar was very likely killed by a U.S. strike in Libya but his death has not been confirmed, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday.

Libya has said that Belmokhtar, who masterminded a 2013 attack on Algeria's In Amenas gasfield, was killed in eastern Libya. U.S. defense officials confirmed an air strike on Belmokhtar which they said appeared to have been successful, but they have not confirmed that he was killed.

Speaking to BMF radio, Le Drian echoed Washington's assessment of Balmokhtar's fate.

"There was a raid by the U.S. army, which targeted a place where he was supposed to be, but I can't confirm it at this stage, it's very likely but not certain," he said.

But a statement on the Twitter account of the Ansar al Sharia militant group appeared to deny that Belmokhtar had been killed. It listed seven people it said had died in the attack - none of whose names resembled Belmokhtar's.

Reporting by Gregory Blachier, writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Dominic Evans

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