US says 'no information' Libya strike killed Serbians

Libyans gather next to debris at the site of a jihadist training camp, targeted in a US air strike, near the Libyan city of Sabratha on February 19, 2016 (AFP Photo/Mahmud Turkia)

Washington (AFP) - The Pentagon said Saturday it had "no information" indicating that its air strike on a jihadist training camp had led to the deaths of two kidnapped Serbian embassy employees, noting it had watched the facility for weeks before the raid.

Belgrade said Friday's attack near the Libyan coastal city of Sabratha -- believed to have killed a senior Islamic State operative -- also had claimed the lives of two employees from its embassy in Libya, who were abducted in November.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told reporters that the pair "would have been released, had they not been killed."

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook extended his condolences to the Serbian government and the relatives of the two employees killed, but said the circumstances of their deaths "remained unclear."

"We have seen reports that two Serbian hostages have been killed in Libya. At this time, we have no information indicating that their deaths were a result of the strike that US forces conducted against an ISIL senior leader and ISIL training camp in Libya," Cook said.

"Our forces watched this training camp for weeks leading up to the operation, and at the time of the strike there were no indications of any civilians present," he added, vowing to share any information possible with authorities in Belgrade.

"When conducting our operations, the US military goes to extraordinary lengths to limit the risk of civilian casualties, and in our campaign to defeat ISIL we will continue to do so," Cook said.

US officials said the raid likely killed Noureddine Chouchane, also known as "Sabir," who along with other jihadists had been planning attacks against American and other Western interests.

Chouchane is suspected of being behind both the beach attack in July 2015 near the Tunisian city of Sousse that killed 38 tourists, including 30 Britons, and an attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 21 tourists and a policeman in March 2015.

Both attacks were claimed by the Islamic State group.