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Terrorist chief reportedly killed during Mali raid

China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2013-03-04 09:29

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.

Terrorist chief reportedly killed during Mali raid

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the al-Qaida commander who masterminded a bloody hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January

"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.

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