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Eastern Libyan forces say they killed Islamic State leader

Eastern Libyan forces said on Wednesday they killed the leader of the Islamic State group in North Africa during a raid in the southern desert city of Sebha earlier this month.

BENGHAZI, Libya, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Eastern Libyan forces said on Wednesday they killed the leader of the Islamic State group in North Africa during a raid in the southern desert city of Sebha earlier this month.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Ahmed al-Masmari said Abu Moaz al-Iraqi was among nine militants killed during the raid but was only identified afterwards.

Islamic State in Libya was formed by al Qaeda militants who took advantage of the chaos after the 2011 uprising against Muammar Gaddafi to seize territory and launch attacks.

The group took control of the central coastal city of Sirte in early 2015 and established a presence in the vast southern desert as well as active affiliates or cells in major cities.

However, it was driven from Sirte in late 2016 and its influence since then has been limited to occasional attacks including one on National Oil Corporation's headquarters in 2018 and another at the Foreign Ministry in 2019, both in Tripoli.

Masmari said Abu Moaz al-Iraqi, also known as Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi, had entered Libya in 2014 and became the group's leader in 2015 when his predecessor was killed.

Islamic State's global threat has reduced in recent years after its self-proclaimed "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria was militarily defeated and much of its leadership killed. However, it remains capable of inspiring attacks around the world, security experts say.

The LNA controls eastern and much of southern Libya and has for years been in conflict with the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

(Reporting By Ayman al-Warfali, writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

((angus.mcdowall@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: angus.mcdowall.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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