MOKTAR Belmoktar, the Islamic extremist believed to have masterminded the Algeria crisis, has claimed responsibility for the hostage-taking in the name of al-Qaeda and said his group was willing to negotiate, according to a report.
The Sahara Media website quoted Belmoktar from a video posted online, but did not show it. “We in al-Qaeda announce this blessed operation,” Belmoktar said.
“We are ready to negotiate with the West and the Algerian government, provided they stop their bombing of Mali’s Muslims.”
Belmoktar, 41, is a veteran guerrilla who fought in Afghanistan in 1980s and in Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s.
It was reportedly while in Afghanistan that he lost an eye, earning him the nickname
Laaouar, Arabic for one-eyed.
He was an al-Qaeda commander but was thought to have left to form his own group.
While he is believed to have masterminded the hostage taking, Belmoktar was not among the 32 terrorists on the ground, most of whom were killed when Algerian troops raided the In Amenas gas plant.
European and American officials believe that the raid was too elaborate to have been planned in the short space of time since French troops entered Mali, although that may have acted as a trigger.
“We had about 40 jihadists, most of them from Muslim countries and some even from the West,” Belmoktar was quoted as saying.
Up until last week Belmoktar was known as the more pragmatic and less brutal of the commanders of an increasingly successful offshoot of al-Qaeda.
The Algerian prefers to trade his hostages for money, experts have said. He is believed to have made tens of millions of dollars by kidnapping westerners.