Chad soldiers have killed al Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the man behind the Algerian gas plant attack, which left at least 37 hostages dead.
The announcement was made on Chad’ national television, though the news hasn’t been confirmed elsewhere.
The New York Times reports that Chad’s armed forces spokesman, General Zakaria Ngobongue, stated:
“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.”
The raid was carried out in retaliation for the French intervention in Mali. It was also reprisal for Algeria’s support for the French war against Islamist militants in the area.
Belmokhtar was born in Algeria and was known for smuggling, kidnapping, and fighting for decades in the Sahel Desert.
The attack on the Algerian gas plant in January changed his status. Instead of being a small-time commander, Mokhtar Belmokhtar became one of the best-known figures of the Islamist militancy in the region.
USA Today notes that General Ngobongue stated that the jihadist base was located in the Adrar and Ifoghas mountains of North Mali.
The reported death of Belmokhtar comes just one day after Chad’s president reported the death of Abou Zeid, the other main al Qaeda commander in the region. The French have not been able to confirm Zeid’s death either.
The United States envoy in Algiers urged last week that the Obama administration make the pursuit of Belmokhtar a priority. The envoy, Henry S. Ensher, also recommended that the Obama administration ask Algeria to allow unarmed drones over the border area of Algeria and also over Mali.
Should the deaths of the two al Qaeda commanders be confirmed, they would be a big blow to the organization’s force in Mali, as well as the surrounding countries. The death of Belmokhtar could also bring closure to the families of those killed in the gas plant attack.