It seems that "one-eyed" terrorist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar was not killed in Mali over the weekend, but a different al-Qaeda leader in Africa was taken out by French forces. Al-Qeada in the Islamic Maghreb confirmed on Monday that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid died in a French bombing raid on northern Mali. However, the same source also said the Belmokhtar was not injured and is still fighting with his fellow militants, contradicting a report from military sources from Chad that their army had killed him on Saturday. France would not confirm the news about Abou Zeid, but said it was "probable" that he is dead.
Since al-Qeada groups are usually willing to admit when their top leaders are taken down, there's no reason to think they would admit to Abou Zeid's death and hide Belmokhtar's. And since no other source has come forward to confirm the Chadian army's story, there's good reason to believe that he is still alive. (We've also been down this road before with Belmokhtar.) Also, Zeid and Belmokhtar are rumored to be rivals and no longer cooperating together in Mali. Belmokhtar is believed to be the mastermind behind the recent attack on an Algeria gas facility.
Until the recent intervention by the French army, Abou Zeid's forces had controlled Timbuktu, taking over the town after an anti-government uprising in Mali began last year. He had been instrumental in instituting a strict shaira law on the local population, and U.S. officials say his death would be a major blow to al-Qaeda's effort in North Africa. Like Belmokhtar, Abou Zeid had built up his army through smuggling and kidnapping, often ransoming Western businesspeople and diplomats for tens of millions of dollars.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.