Chad's military has said its troops in northern Mali have killed al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar. The Islamist leader was the mastermind behind an Algerian gas plant assault in January.
Chad's military said on Saturday that Chadian troops in Mali killed al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed Islamist leader who masterminded the deadly mass hostage-taking at Algeria's Amenas gas plant in January.
"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," Chadian armed forces spokesman General Zacharia Gobongue said in a statement read on national television.
Belmokhtar, an Algerian national, had broken away from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) weeks ago to form a group called Signatories in Blood. The group claimed responsibility for the assault on the southern Algerian gas plant in January that left more than 60 hostages dead including 37 foreign hostages.
On Friday, Chadian President Idriss Deby said Chadian troops killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, the top AQIM commander in Mali, a few days earlier.
Abou Zeid had imposed a violent form of Sharia, or Islamic law, when Islamists captured Mali's ancient town of Timbuktu until evicted by French-led forces in January.
Algeria's Ennahar television in a report on Thursday had claimed Abou Zeid had been killed, reportedly several days ago, in the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountain range, near Mali's border with Algeria.
French officials said they could not confirm the killing of either Abou Zeid or Belmokhtar.
If the deaths are confirmed, the loss of leadership in northern Mali would be a major blow to the Islamist rebels who have been pushed into mountain strongholds by French and African forces.
Chad is among several African nations that have contributed troops to the French-led military intervention in Mali aimed at ridding its desert north of Islamist rebels who seized it nearly a year ago.
hc/lw (Reuters, AFP)