Demonstrators storm Ansar al-Sharia headquarters in Libya
Demonstrators storm Ansar al-Sharia headquarters in LibyaReuters

Libya's Ansar al-Sharia jihadist group on Saturday confirmed the death of its leader, Mohammed al-Zehawi, after Islamist websites reported he had been mortally wounded in fighting in October.

"We mourn the death of the Emir of Ansar al-Sharia Sheikh Mohamed al-Zehawi," the group said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency, without giving details about the time or circumstances of his death.

Zehawi's fate has been a mystery since the October clashes between pro-government forces and Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi, in which dozens died.

Ansar al-Sharia is classified by the United States and the United Nations as a terrorist organization. It has branches in Benghazi, in the eastern city of Derna, and in Sirte, in central Libya.

Zehawi "was killed in Benina clashes near the Benghazi airport, southeast of the city," the Islamist militias February 17 Martyrs and Rafallah al-Sahati Brigades said on Facebook on Saturday.

A source at the shura council of Benghazi rebels also confirmed his death to AFP saying "Zehawi was killed in the Benina clashes on October 11".

"He was buried in Sirte (west of the city) after efforts to save his live failed because he had received a direct hit in the chest and was suffering from diabetes," the source added.

An army officer, who did not wish to be named, said the military learned of Zehawi's death from an "Ansar al-Sharia militant who was made prisoner and who confirmed the news."

Zehawi, who was jailed under the regime of Muammar Qaddafi, took part in the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed the strongman. He had also fought in Al-Qaeda ranks in Afghanistan.

Ansar al-Sharia is affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS) and several months ago declared authority over the coastal city of Darna.

Washington believes the group is responsible for the 2012 attack on the consulate in Benghazi that killed the ambassador and three other Americans.

In November, the United Nations blacklisted Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi and its sister group, Ansar al-Sharia Derna, over links to Al-Qaeda and for running camps for the Islamist State group.

One of the leaders of the group, Ahmed Abu Khattala, has been charged in the United States with crimes related to the 2012 Benghazi attack.

Khattala, who was captured in June by special American forces, has previously denied any connection to the Benghazi attack and has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges.