Moktar Belmoktar was a major player in the militant Islamic movement that has helped turn Mali into a hellish battlefield. Now some are saying that he is dead. If true, it would be one more nail in the coffin of the struggling Al-Qaeda mission in Mali. Here are five informative facts to get you up to speed.
1. He was considered to be the leader of Al-Qaeda in Mali.
He began training at the age of 19, and steadily rose through the ranks. At the time of his death, he took his orders directly from Ayman al-Zawahiri, who sits at the top of the Al-Qaeda food chain.
2. He formed his own terrorist group called the Masked Brigade.
His own Jihadist group is the one that he was using in Mali, at the direction of Al-Qaeda leaders. They have been very active in the region, often engaging with French forces and others over the last few months.
3. He has reportedly been killed by Chadian forces in Mali.
Chad’s military released a statement saying that they have killed Belmoktar during a raid in the Adrar de Ifhogas mountains. Some people in the town of Kidal, which is being used as a base of operations, dispute the Chadian government’s claim, saying that they believe the Chadian’s are trying to compensate for recent losses in the area. The French government is leading military efforts against terrorists in Mali, and a military spokesman has said that they do not have evidence of Belmoktar’s death.
4. He is responsible for the In Amenas Hostage Crisis.
On January 16, 2013, Belmoktar and his group kidnapped over 800 people at the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria. Algerian special forces managed to free the hostages, but many people were killed in the fighting, including 39 foreign hostages and 29 militants.
5. He was sometimes referred to as Mr. Marlboro.
Militant groups are well know for funding their operations through illicit means. In Belmoktar’s case, it has often been through cigarette smuggling, a relatively lucrative enterprise in many parts of the world. It is especially prominent in places that do not have solid supply infrastructures, or western business presence.