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Benghazi attack suspect al-Harzi 'killed in US airstrike'

The Pentagon has claimed that "Islamic State" operative Ali Awni al-Harzi, a suspect in the 2012 Benghazi US consulate attack, was killed in an airstrike. Meanwhile, two notorious Australian fighters are reported dead.

Libyen Angriff auf das US Konsulat in Bengasi

Attacks were carried out on two separate compounds in Benghazi, killing four US citizens

US Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said on Tuesday that al-Harzi had been killed in a June 15 strike in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Al-Harzi's role within the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) was to recruit and facilitate the arrival of fighters to IS-held territory. The US said he was named as the group's leader in the border region between Syria and Turkey, to which many new recruits to IS are believed to travel.

Al-Harzi "operated closely with multiple ISIL-associated extremists throughout North Africa and the Middle East," Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said in a statement, using an alternative acronym for IS. "His death degrades ISIL's ability to integrate North African jihadists into the Syrian and Iraqi fight and removes a jihadist with long ties to international terrorism."

A Tunisian national, al-Harzi was also considered a "person of interest" in connection with the attack on the US consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi in September 2012, in which US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Lawmaker Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said al-Harzi was "responsible for planning hundreds of suicide attacks across the world and was one of the first foreign fighters" to join the Islamic State group.

Schiff said al-Harzi was also suspected of playing a role in the group's hostage program.

Australian pair reported dead

The Australian government, meanwhile, revealed it was working to verify the deaths of two of its citizens who gained notoriety through social media pictures that were published showing themselves with severed heads.

Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar were also said to have been killed in Mosul, with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation citing sources close to their families. One source said the pair had been killed in fighting, while the other attributed it directly to a drone attack.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said officials were seeking to confirm the reports but that the security situation made this difficult.

"The likelihood of verification in relation to Mr Elomar is probably imminent, however, in relation to Mr Sharrouf we're still seeking to verify the reports," Bishop told reporters on Tuesday.

"These two men are not martyrs. They are criminal thugs who have been carrying out brutal terrorist attacks, putting people's lives in danger."

Photographs posted by Sharrouf on Twitter last year showed his 7-year-old son holding the decapitated head of a slain Syrian soldier. Sharrouf was also pictured posing with severed heads, as was Elomar.

rc/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)