Militant group denies U.S. air strike killed Algerian Belmokhtar

Veteran jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar speaks in this undated still image taken from a video released by Sahara Media on January 21, 2013. REUTERS/Sahara Media via Reuters TV/Files

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - The Sahara-based Islamist group al-Mourabitoun on Thursday denied reports that veteran Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of its leaders, was killed in a U.S. air strike in eastern Libya last week. Libya's government first announced on Sunday that Belmokhtar, blamed for a deadly assault on an Algerian gas field in 2013 and a major figure in insurgencies across North Africa, had died alongside other militant leaders. While Washington confirmed that he had been the target of the strike, it has yet to say if he was killed. In a statement received by the Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar, al-Mourabitoun denied Belmokhtar was present in the area targeted by the raid. "We announce to our mujahideen brothers everywhere in the world that the news of the death of commander Khaled Abou El Abbas in an American air strike is false," the statement said, referring to Belmokhtar by one of his aliases. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the statement, which was published in Arabic on Alakhbar's website. The agency has been used in the past by Islamist militant groups including al-Mourabitoun to publicize their statements. (Reporting by Kissima Diagana; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)