June 19, 2013
Chad says soldiers in Mali kill al Qaeda's Belmokhtar
Chadian soldiers in Mali have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the al Qaeda mastermind of a bloody hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January, Chad's military said today.
The death of one of the world's most wanted jihadists would be a major blow to al Qaeda in the region and to the Islamist rebels forced to flee towns they had seized in northern Mali by an offensive by French and African troops.
"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," Chad's armed forces said in a statement read on national television.
Yesterday, Chad's President Idriss Deby said his soldiers had killed another al Qaeda commander, Adelhamid Abou Zeid, among 40 militants who died in an operation in the same area as Saturday's assault - Mali's Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border - on Monday.
France - which has used jet strikes against the militants' mountain strongholds - has declined to confirm the killing of either Abou Zeid or Belmokhtar.
Analysts said the death of two of al Qaeda's most feared commanders in the Sahara desert would mark a significant blow to Mali's Islamist rebellion.
"Both men have extensive knowledge of northern Mali and parts of the broader Sahel and deep social and other connections in northern Mali, and the death of both in such a short amount of time will likely have an impact on militant operations," said Andrew Lebovich, a Dakar-based analyst who follows al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Chad is one of several African nations that have contributed forces to a French-led military intervention in Mali aimed at ridding its vast northern desert of Islamist rebels who seized the area nearly a year ago following a coup in the capital.
Western and African countries are worried that al Qaeda could use the zone to launch international attacks and strengthen ties with African Islamist groups like al Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria.