AN ISLAMIST militant who is believed to have ordered the attack on the Algerian In Amenas gas plant has been killed in Mali, it was claimed last night.
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al-Qaeda commander, was killed by Chadian soldiers in the West African country yesterday, Chad’s armed forces said.
His death was announced on Chadian state television, although the report had not been confirmed by other sources.
Chadian troops are fighting Islamist militants in Mali as part of an international force led by France.
If confirmed, Bel–mokhtar’s death would be a major blow to Islamist rebels in northern Mali, who have been pushed into their mountain strongholds by French and African forces.
Chadian armed forces spokesman General Zacharia Gobongue said in a statement read on national television: “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 Bel–mokhtar.”
Belmokhtar claimed responsibility for the bloody seizure of dozens of foreign hostages at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in January in which more than 60 people were killed.
The report of his death comes days after Chad’s President Idriss Deby said soldiers in Mali had killed another leading al-Qaeda commander in the Sahara, Adelhamid Abou Zeid.
Abou Zeid – whose death is still to be confirmed by DNA evidence – is said to be second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is fighting foreign forces in Mali.
In a speech on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said the operation in Mali was in its final stage.
“Terrorist groups have taken refuge and are hiding in an especially difficult zone,” he said. “Information is out there. I don’t have to confirm it because we must reach the end of the operation.”
The British Foreign Office said last night that it was aware of the reports of Belmokhtar’s death and was looking into them.