Mokhtar Belmokhtar Alive in LibyaApril 22, 2014 in Africa, Libya, Mali, Niger
New information has revealed that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the militant leader responsible for the bloody siege on Algeria’s In Amenas gas plant in January 2013, is alive and plotting new attacks from Libya. The report contradicts earlier intelligence suggesting Belmokhtar had been killed in fighting in Mali.
Belmokhtar, a native Algerian, was a key member of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) until political infighting lead to a fallout with Abou Zeid. Belmokhtar split from the group and formed Khaled Abu al-Abbas Brigade (aka: Masked Brigade, aka: Signatories in Blood). Over the past year Belmokhtar was known to be working with Islamist group MUJAO to drive the Taureg separatist group, MNLA, out of Gao in Mali. His aim was to expand his land base and increase the numbers in his brigade. However a French-led intervention in Mali successfully put down the rebellion, and Chadian troops claimed to have killed both Belmokhtar and Abou Zeid in March of last year. The US however, still offered a five million dollar reward for information leading to his detention.
A security source in Niger and another close to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have confirmed that Belmokhtar has left Mali and taken refuge among armed militias in Libya. Belmokhtar is has evaded detection in Mali where French troops and US drones were searching for him. One source has stated, “From the Libyan territory, he intends to control the entire Sahel,” and many sources beleive that Belmokhtar is planning attacks on Westerners and their interests. Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita believes that if Belmokhtar is in Libya, he posts an “obvious threat” to the entire region.
Malian Analyst El Hadj Konate warns, “Even if he has retreated to Libya, he is still masterminding deadly operations in northern Mali […] he has all the time he needs to regroup his forces because [Libya] is a lawless area.”
Officials in Niger are particularly concerned. On 23 May, 2013, a double attack was carried out on a military base and a French-operated uranium mine in northern Niger, killing several dozen people. Niger shares a long border with the relatively lawless Libya. Southern Libya, according to Niger’s interior minister, “has become an incubator for terrorist groups.”
The Nigerian government is increasing security and development in the north of the country, and focusing on issues including the addressing marginalisation of Tauregs in the area. However, officials fear that the youth of the nation could be influenced by terrorist recruiters.
Niger’s interior minister recently called on France and the United States to help “eradicate the terrorist threat” in Libya. However, the Chief of Staff for the French military has suggested that an international operation in the region could avert the creation “of a new centre of gravity of terrorism”.