The Chadian army says they killed prominent militant Islamist Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Mali on Saturday. Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for an attack at an Algerian gas plant in January which led to the deaths of 37 hostages.
In a statement read on Chadian national television, an armed forces spokesperson said: "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 Belmokhta." The announcement of his death comes a day after the President of Chad Idriss Deby announced the senior Al-Qaeda commander Adelhamid Abou Zeid had been killed by French forces in Northern Mali.
His death, if confirmed, is part of a larger conflict in the area. Islamist rebels have already been pushed back from towns such as Gao in Northern Mali.
The British Foreign Secretary William Hague said "It would be a blow to terrorism and to the criminal network around this man and other people. But it doesn't mean that the problems of Mali would be at an end. There's a lot to do to promote a political process in Mali: elections, legitimate government and so on. That work has to go on".
Chad is working alongside France and other African nations in a force aimed at regaining control of Northern Mali which has been seized by Islamist rebels. Belmokhtar lost an eye whilst fighting in an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s; he has spent over two decades in militant Islamism. Also a former member of the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), he left to create his own militant group.
There are concerns over the fate of seven French hostages taken in Mali; the French government has not confirmed the announcements from Chad of the deaths of prominent Al-Qaeda commander Abdelhamid Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Didier Beguin, a member of the support committee for another group of French hostages, said: "This is a rumour that is enormously worrying for the families and those of us who support them".
Jay Gory, The Cheers News