3 Mar 2013

Islamist militant Belmokhtar reported killed

1:56 pm on 3 March 2013

A former al-Qaeda commander believed to be behind the bloody mass hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January has reportedly been killed in Mali.

The Chadian army said Mokhtar Belmokhtar had been killed by its forces, but this has not not been confirmed by other sources, the BBC reports.

Chadian troops are fighting Islamist militants in Mali as part of an international force led by France.

The army statement broadcast by state television in Chad said weapons, equipment and 60 vehicles were seized.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar is said to have led the assault on the In Amenas gas facility in eastern Algeria in January where 37 hostages were killed in the course of a military operation to retake the plant.

The Algerian-born militant claimed to have received military training in Afghanistan before returning to Algeria, where he lost an eye fighting in the Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.

He then joined al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which operates across the Sahara, before breaking off to lead his own group.

If confirmed, the death would be a major blow to Islamist militants in Mali, a BBC correspondent says.

Reports of the killing came a day after Chadian President Idriss Deby said the country's forces killed al-Qaeda militant Abdelhamid Abou Zeid during clashes in northern Mali.

Abou Zeid is said to be second-in-command of AQIM, which is fighting foreign forces in Mali. His death is still to be confirmed by DNA evidence.