Al-Qaeda denies death of Belmokhtar

Belmokhtar's militant group denied reports that he was killed in a U.S. air strike in Libya last week

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Al-Qaeda's North Africa branch has denied reports that Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a major figure in insurgencies across North Africa and the Saharan border region, was killed in a U.S. air strike in Libya.

SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors radical Islamist organizations in the media, cited a statement from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posted on Twitter declaring that Belmokhtar, also known as Khalid Abu al-Abbas, is alive.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar (AFP)
Mokhtar Belmokhtar (AFP)

"The mujahid commander Khalid Abu al-Abbas is still alive and well, and he wanders and roams in the land of Allah, supporting his allies and vexing his enemies," said the statement.

Libya's government said on June 15 that the militant blamed for a deadly attack on an Algerian gas field.

Belmokhtar also ran smuggling routes across North Africa. He was dubbed "The Uncatchable" by the French military.

Libya's internationally recognized government, which sits in the eastern town of Bayda, said the U.S strike had killed Belmokhtar at a gathering with other militant leaders, who it did not name.

Belmokhtar - who was blamed for orchestrating the 2013 attack on Algeria's In Amenas gas field in which 40 oil workers died, and for several foreign kidnappings - has been reported killed several times, including in 2013 when he was believed to have died in fighting in Mali.

His death would be a major strike against al-Qaeda-tied groups in the region.

Once associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's Algerian leadership, Belmokhtar broke from the group but remained tied to al Qaeda's central leadership even after forming his own group "Those who sign in Blood".

The Sahara-based Islamist group al-Mourabitoun also denied reports that Belmokhtar, one of its leaders, was killed in a U.S. air strike in eastern Libya last week.

In a statement received by the Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar, al-Mourabitoun denied Belmokhtar was present in the area targeted by the raid.

"We announce to our mujahideen brothers everywhere in the world that the news of the death of commander Khaled Abou El Abbas in an American air strike is false," the statement said, referring to Belmokhtar by one of his aliases.

The authenticity of the statement, which was published in Arabic on Alakhbar's website, could not be immediately verified.

The agency has been used in the past by Islamist militant groups including al-Mourabitoun to publicise their statements.

Meanwhile, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Thursday it is "very probable" that Belmokhtar was killed in a U.S. air strike, but he admitted he could not be sure, according to Agence France Presse.

In an interview with French news channel BFMTV, Le Drian said: "We are not sure about it. There was a strike by the U.S. army which targeted a place where he was supposed to be. But I cannot confirm his death. It's very probable, but it's still not certain."