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U.S. says airstrike killed Islamic State fighter sought in Benghazi attack

The Pentagon says an Islamic State suspect in the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attack was killed in an airstrike

A U.S. airstrike in Iraq killed an Islamic State fighter suspected of involvement in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, the Pentagon said late Monday.

Ali Awni Harzi's vehicle was hit June 15 in Mosul in northern Iraq, according to the Pentagon.

U.S. military officials believe Harzi was responsible for recruiting fighters from North Africa and dispatching them into the fight in Syria and Iraq on behalf of Islamic State.

“Harzi operated closely with multiple ISIL-associated extremists throughout North Africa and the Middle East,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said, using a common acronym for Islamic State. The strike “removes a jihadist with long ties to international terrorism.”

The U.S. State Department designated Harzi as a global terrorist in April. At the time, the department referrered to him as a "Syrian-based Tunisian national" who was a "high-profile member known for recruiting volunteers, facilitating the travel of ... fighters to Syria, and for smuggling weapons and explosives into Tunisia."

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Harzi previously held leadership positions in Al Qaeda in Iraq. He added that Harzi was suspected of involvement in Islamic State’s hostage program and “responsible for planning hundreds of suicide attacks across the world.”

The Pentagon called him “a person of interest” in the Benghazi attack of Sept. 11, 2012, which killed Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith and two CIA contractors.

Harzi's brother, Tariq Bin-al-Tahar Bin al Falih al-‘Awni al-Harzi, is also suspected of being an Islamic State militant and is being sought by the U.S. government with a reward of up to $3 million.

"While it may have taken years to track down and eliminate Ali Awni al Harzi, those who kill Americans must understand that our memories are long and our commitment to justice is steadfast," Schiff said.

The strike against Harzi took place just two days after the Pentagon targeted Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a smuggler associated with Al Qaeda who was believed to be the architect of a deadly 2013 hostage attack on a natural gas facility in Algeria.

The Pentagon said Belmokhtar was killed in the June 13 strike, in which two F-15 fighter jets delivered several 500-pound bombs.

Follow @wjhenn for military and defense info.

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