(Reuters) - Chad said on Saturday its soldiers in Mali had killed al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the al Qaeda mastermind of a bloody hostage-taking in Algeria in January.
Here are some facts about Belmokhtar:
- Belmokhtar’s Mulathameen group claimed responsibility for the capture of Algeria’s In Amenas gas plant, jointly-owned by BP, Statoil and Algeria’s state energy company Sonatrach, in January. Up to 37 foreigners died after troops stormed the complex to end the hostage crisis in which 29 militants were also killed.
- Linked to a string of kidnappings of foreigners in North Africa in the last decade, French intelligence dubbed Algerian-born Belmokhtar “the uncatchable”.
- Born in Ghardaia, Algeria, in 1972, Belmokhtar said in an interview posted on jihadi forums in 2007 that he traveled at the age of 19 to Afghanistan where he gained training and combat experience before returning to Algeria in 1992.
- This launched him on a 2-decade career of Islamic militancy, first as a member of Algeria’s Islamic Armed Group (GIA) in the country’s civil war, then as a joint founder of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which extended its attacks against security forces into countries along the southern fringe of the Sahara.
- The GSPC later took up the franchise of al Qaeda’s North Africa wing, under the name al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Belmokhtar headed one of two AQIM battalions in Algeria’s southern desert bordering Mali.
- Belmokhtar was sentenced by an Algerian court to life imprisonment in absentia in connection with the killing of 10 Algerian customs agents in 2007.
- His reputation as a “gangster-jihadist” involved in arms and cigarette smuggling earned him the nickname “Mister Malboro” among locals in the Sahara, according to French media.
- His activities gained him strong links with local Tuareg communities, including the ones in northern Mali whose fighters played a major role in the rebel offensive last year that seized the north of the West African state. He is reported to have married local Arab and Tuareg women. (Sources: U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor, U.N. al Qaeda Sanctions Committee, Reuters)
Reporting by David Lewis, Pascal Fletcher and Madjiasra Nako; Editing by Jason Webb and Robin Pomeroy