Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s death a significant blow to al-Qaeda
Telegraph, Mar 3 2013
According to Chadian army general Zacharia Gobongue, Mokhtar Belmokhtar died in an assault on an Islamist rebel base in northern Mali on Saturday. Belmokhtar, one of the world’s most wanted men, was at the centre of an international manhunt after January’s siege at the Ayn Aminas gas plant in Algeria. The Telegraph’s Chief Patriotic Field Sports Operative, David Blair, artfully posed against a backdrop of windswept rocks and scrub, says:
The fact that he has now been killed, or so it appears, would be a significant blow to his organisation and would call into question their operational effectiveness. It’s also interesting to look at where he was supposedly killed, it seems to have happened in northern Mali. France launched an operation earlier this year, which succeeded in capturing the three main cities in northern Mali from al-Qaeda and its allies. In response to that, a lot of senior al-Qaeda figures fled further north, to Mali’s frontier with Algeria, which is bang in the middle of the Sahara desert and spanned by a mountain range. That seems to be where Mokhtar Belmokhtar was finally tracked down, and that area seems to be the last haven for al-Qaeda commanders in the Sahara.
Militant says Belmokhtar alive
Reuters, Mar 3 2013
Algerian al-Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, reported killed by Chadian troops, is alive, SITE reported a contributor as saying on Sunday. An unidentified participant in militant website discussions said in a message posted on several forums that Belmoktar was “alive and well and leading the battles himself.” The message said Belmokhtar, the presumed mastermind behind a hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January, would soon issue a message confirming the news. The death of Belmokhtar, nicknamed ‘the uncatchable’, has been reported several times in the past. On Saturday, Chad said its forces had killed him in the same part of Mali that they had killed Abd’el-Hamid Abu Zeid, al-Qaeda’s other senior field commander in the Sahara, a few days previously. The killing of Belmokhtar and Abu Zeid, if confirmed, would eliminate al-Qaeda’s leadership in Mali and raise questions over the fate of 7 French hostages thought to be held by the group in the country. AQIM has pledged to avenge a French assault on its fighters in Mali, which Paris said it launched to prevent its former colony becoming a launchpad for wider al-Qaeda attacks. The online participant did not indicate how he learned of Belmokhtar’s status. Ahrar Press, an independent Arabic media organisation, also reported that a source in Belmokhtar’s group denied claims of his death.
Doubt over al-Qaeda boss’s death in Mali
AAP, Mar 3 2013
Algeria is seeking to confirm the reported killing of al-Qaeda’s top commander in northern Mali, where French and African troops attempted to flush out Islamist fighters from desert and mountain hideouts. Chad’s president announced on Friday that his troops had killed Abu Zeid days earlier, in what would be one of the worst blows to AQIM in the 7-week-old French-led intervention. Idris Deby Itno claimed the AQIM commander in Mali was killed during a major battle that also left 26 Chadian soldiers dead on Feb 22. “Our soldiers killed two Jihadi chiefs, including Abu Zeid,” he said. However, AQIM itself has not yet confirmed the Jihadi leader’s death and officials in his native Algeria were carrying out DNA tests in an effort to confirm the demise of one of Africa’s most wanted men. Analysts have suggested Abu Zeid’s death could spell AQIM’s doom with other Jihadi groups now thriving in the region, but while Washington described the report as very credible, France has so far treated it with caution. Algeria’s el-Khabar newspaper said on Saturday:
Algerian officers have examined a body said to be that of Abu Zeid in a military site in northern Mali and identified his personal weapon, but were unable to formally identify the body as his. Confirmation of Abu Zeid’s death remains linked to the results of DNA tests done on Thursday by Algeria on two members of his family.
Algerian security services were the first to report Abu Zeid’s death. Mauritanian expert Mohamed Mahmud Uld Abu’l-Maali pointed out that Algeria had announced his death several times in the past and that Chad needed morale boosting news after suffering such heavy losses. Matthieu Guidere, a French so-called ‘al-Qaeda specialist’, also voiced caution in the absence of any confirmation of Abu Zeid’s death on Jihadi forums, saying:
Experience shows that Jihadis never try to hide their dead and immediately broadcast their martyrdom.
Abu Zeid, 46, whose real name is Mohamed Ghedir, was a former smuggler who embraced radical Islam in the 1990s and became one of AQIM’s key leaders.