The al-Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who shot to prominence after the bloody Algerian gas plant hostage crisis, has reportedly been killed by Chadian soldiers in Mali.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar was reportedly killed yesterday during a raid in northern Mali, near the Algerian border.
A statement by the armed forces read out on national television in Chad said:
“On Saturday, March 2, at noon, Chadian armed forces operating in northern Mali completely destroyed a terrorist base. … The toll included several dead terrorists, including their leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar.”
Only the day before, Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, said his soldiers had killed another al-Qaeda commander Adelhamid Abou Zeid in a different raid in the same area.
If the death is confirmed then it will be regarded as a major blow to both Islamists and al-Qaeda forces in the region, especially after fleeing the French-led military offensive in Mali.
France has so far not confirmed the death of either Abou Zeid or Belmokhtar. And likewise in Washington, the White House has yet to confirm Belmokhtar’s death.
Analysts said the death of two of al Qaeda’s most senior commanders in the Sahara region would mark a significant blow to Mali’s Islamist rebellion.
“Both men have extensive knowledge of northern Mali and parts of the broader Sahel and deep social and other connections in northern Mali, and the death of both in such a short amount of time will likely have an impact on militant operations,” said Andrew Lebovich, a Dakar-based analyst who follows al Qaeda in the region.
'Crazy, quick tempered, and not very clever'
Read more about Mokhtar Belmokhtar and the media>
Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s name went global after he led the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in January. More than 60 people, including British workders, were killed during the kidnapping and the subsequent recapture of the plant by Algerian special forces.
Mokhtar, who lost an eye after fighting in Afghanistan, had also been known as the “Marlboro man” after years spent smuggling weapons and cigarettes, as well as kidnapping and extorting money around the Sahara region.
An Algerian, Mahmoud (not his real name) who worked with Osama bin Laden in Peshawar told Channel 4 News about his impressions of Mokhtar after meeting him there.
“He came too late for jihad” says Mahmoud. “The impression I had from him was he was crazy, quick tempered, and not very clever.
“Many of the people who arrived who were his age, I don’t know 23 or 24, were heavy, serious, but he was light. He had come from the South of Algeria and just wanted to fight.
“Last time I saw Mokhtar he had two eyes, and he was an empty man.”
Chad is one of several African nations have sent forces to assist the French-led military intervention in Mali, to clear out Islamists forces in the region.
Western and African countries are worried that al-Qaeda could strengthen ties with African Islamist groups like al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, and use it as a base to launch international attacks from.