Chadian forces claim raid killed top Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar
Chadian military forces in Mali claimed to have killed fugitive al Qaeda affiliate Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the mastermind behind the deadly terrorist assault against an Algerian gas plant in January, during a dramatic counterterrorism operation in northern Mali today.
"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," Chadian armed forces spokesman General Zacharia Gobongue said on a Chadian television station. The statement also noted that weapons, equipment, and 60 vehicles were seized, according to the BBC. As this is a developing situation and Belmokhtar's death has not yet been confirmed by additional sources, the reports must be taken with caution.
Yesterday Chadian forces claimed to have killed Abdel Mejid Abou Zeid, a top al Qaeda leader who serves as the deputy to Yahya Abu Hammam, the head of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's operations in the Sahel region of North Africa.
Zeid leads the Taregh Ibn Ziyad brigade, which operates throughout Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and southern Algeria. Zeid's brigade is responsible for the beheading of British hostage Edwin Dyer in May 2009. Algerians, Mauritanians, Malians, and Moroccans are known to fight with both Hammam and Zeid. [See LWJ report, US adds senior AQIM commander to terrorist list.]
So far, the French ministry of foreign affairs has not confirmed Zeid's death, but officials are awaiting results of a DNA test that has been conducted on the remains supposedly belonging to Zeid, according to France 24 News.
Chadian military forces are reported to have entered Mali around Jan. 22 as part of a regional African military force seeking to thwart the Islamist takeover in the country.
Background on Belomakhtar
Belmokhtar has been tied to jihadists in North Africa and Central Asia. He waged jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s, and fought in Algeria's civil war in the 1990s with the al Qaeda-linked Armed Islamic Group and its successor, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which renamed itself al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2007. AQIM is al Qaeda's affiliate in North Africa.
In 2003, the United Nations designated Belmokhtar as a global terrorist for his activities on behalf of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. He was also convicted in absentia by Algerian courts for criminal acts including terrorism in 2004, 2007, and 2008.
Although Belmokhtar split with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in December 2012, he still conducts joint operations with the group. Belmokhtar later created the al-Mua'qi'oon Biddam, or Those who sign with Blood Brigade, which led the bloody terrorist assault against the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria in mid-January.
Belmokhtar reports directly to al Qaeda's central leadership, according to his spokesman. Al Qaeda central tightened its control over AQIM's hostage operations in late 2010. [See LWJ report, Analysis: Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations].