French strike ‘kills’ Al-Qaeda ally Belmokhtar

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: One-eyed hostage killer Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of Al-Qaeda’s most no­to­ri­ous al­lies in North Africa, was said on Mon­day to have been slain in a French air strike.

A US of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, con­firmed a re­port in the Wall Street Jour­nal that US in­tel­li­gence helped France tar­get the vet­eran mil­i­tant.

The news came as French De­fense Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Wash­ing­ton for talks with his US coun­ter­part Sec­re­tary of De­fense Ash Carter.

But nei­ther top of­fi­cial con­firmed the strike, said to have taken place in south­ern Libya ear­lier this month.

The Al­ge­rian mil­i­tant, com­man­der of an Al-Qaeda-linked fac­tion of the Al-Mura­bitoun group, has been re­ported killed on sev­eral pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions. But the of­fi­cial told AFP the lat­est strike is be­lieved to have fi­nally hit the elu­sive mil­i­tant, once known for kid­nap­ping Euro­peans for mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar ran­soms.

Ac­cord­ing to the Wall Street Jour­nal re­port, cit­ing ex­perts and un­named of­fi­cials, the strike re­flects closer US and French in­tel­li­gence co­op­er­a­tion.

Af­ter Novem­ber 2015, mil­i­tant at­tacks on Paris left 130 dead, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced promised that closer in­tel­li­gence co­op­er­a­tion with Paris would be­gin.

Belmokhtar be­came one of the world’s most wanted men in 2013 af­ter a spec­tac­u­lar as­sault on the In Ame­nas gas plant in Al­ge­ria left at least 38 hostages dead.

This year, his group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for an at­tack on lux­ury a ho­tel in Burk­ina Faso that killed another 20 peo­ple, most of them for­eign­ers. And re­ports he had ar­rived in Libya have fueled con­cern that ji­hadists will take ad­van­tage of the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil there to es­tab­lish a base of op­er­a­tions.

Wash­ing­ton put a $5 mil­lion bounty on the 44-year-old’s head, dub­bing him the leader of the Khaled Abu Al-Ab­bas Brigade, also known as the “Sig­na­to­ries in Blood.”

In May last year, he in­sisted that Al-Mura­bitoun re­mains loyal to Al-Qaeda, de­spite another of its lead­ers pledg­ing al­le­giance the Daesh group.

Belmokhtar was born on June 1, 1972 in the an­cient desert city of Ghardaia, 600km south of the Al­ge­rian cap­i­tal. In a rare 2007 in­ter­view he said he joined the mu­jahideen rebels fight­ing the Soviet forces in Afghanistan in 1991 when he was barely 19 years old.

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