4 March 2013

Mali: Belmokhtar Death Unconfirmed

Photo: La Tribune
Abu Zeid is believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of five French nationals in 2010.

Al-Qaeda sources admit Abdelhamid Abou Zeid died in Mali, but the status of arch-terrorist Laaouar is still unclear.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on Monday (March 4th) confirmed the death of Mali emir Abdelhamid Abou Zeid.

The al-Qaeda spokesman denied to Sahara Media, however, that Abou Zeid's chief rival Mokhtar Belmokhtar had also been killed in Mali.

"Neither François Hollande nor any other president have confirmed the death of Belmokhtar...How do you want Algeria to confirm this information?" Algerian Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia asked reporters on Monday (March 4th).

Reports of the terror leader's death started when Chadian General Zakaria Ngobongue said in a televised statement on Saturday that Chadian troops killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar (also known as Khaled Abou El Abbas or Laaouar) during an attack on a base used by jihadists and narco-traffickers.

The announcement came two days after al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) emir Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was reported slain in the area of Tigharghar in northern Mali.

Abou Zeid's death, announced by the Chadian army, was "likely", French Admiral Edouard Guillaud said on Monday but he stressed that the body had not been officially recovered.

His death allegedly occurred when Chadian troops were ambushed by jihadists and called for French air support after losing more than 40 soldiers.

Abou Zeid reportedly led a group of fighters into the battle, which started when jihadist militants launched an ambush prepared for the Chadian forces. He was seeking to kidnap French soldiers to add them to his hostages.

Fifty AQIM fighters were killed during the fighting, including other field commanders that the source could not identify by name.

Yet, it is still not clear how Abou Zeid died. One report said that he was killed in a French air raid, while another said he was killed in battle with Chadian military forces.

Though the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) did not confirm Belmokhtar's death, they did confirm Abou Zeid's.

"Some elements of our movement identified the body and handed it over to the French forces. We are still looking for confirmation of the killing of the terrorist Laaouar," Atay Ag Mohamed, a member of the movement's liaison office, told Magharebia.

Former Malian Minister of Foreign and Defence Affairs Sumaylo Maiga revealed that the Algerian authorities received the body of the terrorist who is believed to be Abdelhamid Abou Zeid (real name Mohammad Ghadir).

Algeria will carry out a DNA tests on the body, Maiga said, adding that Malian authorities were waiting for the results.

Malian authorities were not in possession of any official information to confirm the killing of the terrorist organisation's leader, the former minister said to the Algerian daily Echorouk.

In response to a question about the evidence that the Chadian President had relied upon when announcing the elimination of Abou Zeid, Maiga said that the President "relied upon the data collected from his troops who conducted the operation".

The Algerian newspaper El Khabar reported on Saturday that officers in the Algerian security services who were chasing Abou Zeid for years identified his weapon, but could not confirm the body. Should the rumours hold up, the loss of either Belmokhtar or Abou Zeid would be a major blow to AQIM.

Belmokhtar's death would "strongly affect the outcome for AQIM in light of the charisma he enjoyed inside the organisation and his career in the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)", El Khabar reporter Atef Kadadrah told Magharebia.

He added that the organisation would have "lost a leader who had strong ties with people from the north of Mali, known for their activity in the field of trans-Saharan smuggling and with outstanding experience of the terrain and ways to move within it".

The death of Belmokhtar "would be a harsh lesson for all terrorists and anyone who thinks of taking the path of extremism in the region of the Sahara", Ag Mohammed, the MNLA official, told Magharebia.

Mauritanian Islamic party Tawassul youth organiser Mahfouz Ould Ajwad had a different take.

"These movements are not affected by the absence of their leaders because they rely on guerrilla warfare which often does not need a commander as much as it needs an initiator with financial and ideological support," he said.

"Their income comes from different sources. In addition, the death of the man if confirmed will lead to swift retaliation by the organisation and will complicate the release of the hostages," Ould Ajwad said.

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