Home / China / World

Terrorist chief reportedly killed during Mali raid

By Agencies in N'djamena, Chad and Washington | China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-04 07:52

France won't confirm death of al-Qaida jihadist

Chadian soldiers in Mali have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the al-Qaida commander who masterminded a bloody hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January, Chad's military said.

The death of one of the world's most wanted jihadists will be a major blow to al-Qaida in the region and to Islamist rebels already forced to flee towns they had seized in northern Mali by an offensive by French and African troops.

"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," Chad's armed forces said in a statement.

On Friday, Chad's president, Idriss Deby, said his soldiers had killed another al-Qaida commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, among 40 militants who died in an operation in the same area as Saturday's assault - Mali's Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border.

France, which has used jet strikes against the militants' mountain hideouts, has declined to confirm the killing of either Abou Zeid or Belmokhtar.

US Republican Representative Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Saturday hailed the reported killing of Belmokhtar.

"One of the most elusive and deadly terrorists in North Africa has been reportedly killed," Royce said in a statement without confirming the warlord's alleged death.

"This would be a hard blow to the collection of jihadists operating across the region that are targeting American diplomats and energy workers," the US lawmaker added.

Analysts said the death of two of al-Qaida's most feared commanders in the Sahara desert will 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-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Anne Giudicelli, managing director of security consultancy Terrorisc, said the al-Qaida commanders' deaths - if confirmed - would temporarily disrupt the Islamist rebel network but would also raise concern over the fate of seven French hostages believed to be held by Islamists in northern Mali.

Chad is one of several African nations that have contributed forces to a French-led military intervention in Mali aimed at ridding its vast northern desert of Islamist rebels who seized the area nearly a year ago following a coup in the capital.

Western and African countries are worried that al-Qaida could use the zone to launch international attacks and strengthen ties with African Islamist groups like al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

'Marlboro Man'

Belmokhtar, 40, who lost an eye while fighting in Afghanistan in the 1990s, claimed responsibility for the seizure of dozens of foreign hostages at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in January in which more than 60 people were killed.

That attack put Algeria back on the map of global jihad, 20 years after its civil war. It also burnished Belmokhtar's jihadi credentials by showing that al-Qaida remained a potent threat to Western interests despite US forces, killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.

Before In Amenas, some intelligence experts had assumed Algerian-born Belmokhtar had drifted away from jihad in favor of kidnapping and smuggling weapons and cigarettes in the Sahara, where he earned the nickname "Marlboro Man".

In a rare interview with a Mauritanian news service in late 2011, Belmokhtar paid homage to bin Laden and his successor, Ayman al-Zawahri. He cited al-Qaida's traditional global preoccupations, including Iraq, Afghanistan and the fate of the Palestinians, and stressed the need to "attack Western and Jewish economic and military interests".

He shared command of field operations for AQIM - al-Qaida's North African franchise - with Abou Zeid, although there was talk the two did not get along and were competing for power.

A former smuggler-turned jihadi, Algerian-born Abou Zeid imposed a violent form of sharia, Islamic law, in the ancient desert town of Timbuktu, including amputations and the destruction of ancient Sufi shrines.

Robert Fowler, a former Canadian diplomat held hostage by Belmokhtar from 2008 to 2009, told Reuters, "While I cannot consider reports of the death of both Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar as anything but good news, ... I must temper my enthusiasm by the fact that this is by no means the first time Belmokhtar's death has been reported."

French President Francois Hollande said on Friday that the assault to retake Mali's vast desert north from AQIM and other Islamist rebels that began on Jan 11 was in its final stage and so could not confirm Abou Zeid's death.


Editor's picks
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349