MUJAO leader says Belmokhtar is alive

Mokhtar-Belmokhtar-Sahara-Media.jpg

Al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Image from Sahara Media.

The leader of the al Qaeda-linked Movement for Tawhid [Unity] and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) has contradicted reports that wanted jihadist military commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed in Mali in early March. A spokesman for Belmokhtar’s unit also denied he was killed. Belmokhtar, who is said to have direct communications with al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, was reported to have been killed during a joint French and Chadian military operation in a mountainous region in northern Mali.

Hamad el Khairy, the head of the MUJAO’s sharia, or Islamic law, committee, said that reports of Belmokhtar’s death and the deaths of several other top jihadist commanders are “merely unfounded lies” and have “no basis of truth.” Khairy, who was added to the US’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists in 2012, made the statement to the Nouakchott News Agency on April 1. The Nouakchott News Agency report was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Khairy also denied media reports that hundreds of jihadists have been killed since France invaded Mali to halt the takeover of the country by three al Qaeda-linked groups in mid-January.

“What they said about the killing of 600 mujahideen is an unfounded lie,” he said, according to SITE. “What is being said is merely media propaganda.”

Khairy also said that “there is no difference between” al Qaeda and MUJAO, maintaining that “these are just names.”

The spokesman for the al-Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or Those who sign with Blood Brigade, which is commanded by Belmokhtar, also denied that the group’s emir had been killed. Al Hasan Ould Akhlil, who is also known as Julaybib, the spokesman, also contradicted reports that large numbers of the group’s fighters were killed.

The Chadian president and the military have insisted that Belmokhtar was killed in counterterrorism operation in the Ifoghas Mountains in northern Mali on March 2. Pictures were shown that were said to have been the corpse of Belmokhtar. French officials refused to confirm his death, however. On March 23, France did confirm the death of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb commander Abdel Mejid Abou Zeid, who was killed in a raid in the Ifoghas Mountains in late February.

Background on Belmokhtar

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, which led the bloody terrorist assault against the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria in mid-January. Belmokhtar claimed the attack in the name of al Qaeda.

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].

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10 Comments

  • mike merlo says:

    It would appear that at the very least Mokhtar Belmokhtar was wounded.
    The question’s now are:
    1) how badly was he wounded
    2) where is he being interned

  • gb says:

    Well, there’s no denying that the French have killed terrorists, whenever the opportunity has presented itself. Khairy ‘s denial of this fact, blunts his credibility and thus leads to doubt concerning Belmokhtar’s survival. Until he surfaces for confirmation of life, I’d operate on the premise that he’s done for.

  • AZ says:

    Severely wounding Belmokhtar might be better than killing him. It just sucks up resources & ties down some of their people. In short he is a liability.
    The jihadists got a shot in the arm with the fall of Gaddaffi. That one time windfall of weapons will dry up. I hope the French keep the pressure up & attrite them.

  • M.H says:

    Mike,
    If he is being interned, I guess Ansar Al-sharia Tunisia will be a good probability( good medical care, a weak security, a large reservoir of Jihadists, a good organizational skills, easy access to weapons and training),they are becoming a main player in AQIM.
    The 17 Mars communiqué is a good sign that AQIM is suffering huge ( Lost of leaders, fighters, and safe heaven).They are desperate. I am hoping he is dead.

  • mike merlo says:

    @M.H.
    your guess is as good as anybody’s in a situation like Belmokhtar’s. At the very least you identified a collection of components that ‘make’s’ such a guess plausible. That’s a heck of distance to transport a person though. I often wonder what AQIM’s & their allies Logistical Infrastructure ‘looks’ like.

  • brad says:

    Bill
    Has any jihadists sites released photos or audio to support the claim that he has survived ? What do the chadians say about this claim ?

  • M.H says:

    Mike,
    Another guess is to understand the relation between Belmokhtar and Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud (Both of theme were against the tactics of About Zeid). If wounded is he under the protection of Abu Musab?
    For the logistical and infrastructure, probably after losing Mali, they are focusing on what an urban shelter will offer.

  • mike merlo says:

    @M.H.
    IMO its a bit to early to forecast whether Mali is ‘lost’ or not. Based on what ‘we’ve seen’ to date in other “theaters” whatever strateg(ies) the Islamic Internationale has & is employing those of ‘us’ opposing ‘it’ still seem to be at odds with whatever ‘it is’ we’re up against & how best to ‘arrest’ it’s spread & defeat ‘it.’

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Brad, I haven’t seen any photos or videos of Belmokhtar since the claim that he is alive was made. Nor have I heard of Chad revising or backing up their claims.

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