"Chadian forces have totallly destroyed the principal bases of the jihadists in the Adrar
massif of the Ifoghas [mountains], to be more precise in the town of Ametetai," Chad's military command announced on Saturday, adding that "several terrorists", including Mokhtar Belmokhtar, had been killed.
The claim came a day after Chad's President Idriss Déby said that another Aqim leader, Abou Zeid, had been killed, a claim that France has yet to confirm.
Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the In Amenas oilfield attack, which claimed the lives of 38 hostages, 37 of them foreign, and took place just after France's military intervention in Mali began.
There was no immediate confirmation of his death from elsewhere but US Republican Representative Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, hailed the reported killing.
"This would be a hard blow to the collection of jihadists operating across the region that are targeting American diplomats and energy workers," he said in a statement.
Who is Mokhtar Belmokhtar?
- Born in the 1970s in Algeria, Belmokhtar is one of the few jihadists in the Sahara region to have fought in Afghanistan. He took part in the war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and lost an eye in combat.
- In the 1990s he fought against the Algerian government as a member of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the military wing of the Islamic Salvation Front (Fis), which had been denied its election victory by military intervention.
- His special skills included kidnapping, the use of explosives and ambushes.
- He went on to become a joint founder of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which evolved into Aqim.
- In 2003 in Algeria he took part in the kidnapping of about 30 foreign tourists, some of whom were freed after a ransom was paid.
- He has at least three nicknames – “Khaled”, “Le Borgne” (One-eye), due to his disability, “the Uncatchable” because intelligence services couldn’t catch him and “Marlboro”, due to his thriving business of smuggling of contraband cigarettes.
- An Algerian court sentenced him to death in 2008 for the murder of 13 customs officers.
- For nearly 10 years he was regarded as a key member of Aqim but reportedly fell out with Aqim chief Abou Zeid and formed the Khaled Abu al-Abbas Brigade, also known as Masked Brigade or the Signatories in Blood.
- Although some observers believed that he was devoting himself completely to smuggling and other criminal activity, he reappeared on the political front with the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria, in which 38 hostages died. He said that the assault was a reprisal for France’s military intervention in Mali and it became clear that he still had ties to Al-Qaida.
- On Saturday, a day after claiming that Abou Zeid was dead, the Chadian military claimed that it had killed Belmokhtar in an operation in the Ifogha mountains near the Algerian border in northern Chad.