Belmokhtar Algerian is the notorious one-eyed African jihadist

On Monday the US official said he likely had been killed in a strike there this month, with the support of US intelligence.

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Mokhtar Belmokhtar (pictured), who was said to have been killed in a French air strike, is the notorious commander of the Al-Qaeda ally, Al-Murabitoun jihadist group play

Mokhtar Belmokhtar (pictured), who was said to have been killed in a French air strike, is the notorious commander of the Al-Qaeda ally, Al-Murabitoun jihadist group

(ANI/AFP/File)
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Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who a US official said Monday is likely to have been killed in a French air strike, is the notorious commander of a group allied to Al-Qaeda in North Africa.

One of the world's most-wanted men, the Algerian jihadist was dubbed "Mr Marlboro" for his past involvement in trans-Saharan cigarette smuggling and is easily recognisable by his scarred face.

His Al-Murabitoun group claimed responsibility for several major attacks in sub-Saharan Africa, including Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and is also known for kidnapping Europeans for ransom.

France and its allies have been a prime targets for west African jihadists since French forces intervened in Mali in 2013 to root out Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other extremist groups from the country's desert north.

Past deaths denied

Al-Murabitoun was born in 2013 from the fusion of one of those groups, MUJAO, and Belmokhtar's Al-Qaeda splinter group "Signatories in Blood".

Earlier that year, Belmokhtar's group was blamed for the bloody siege of a remote Algerian gas plant in which at least 38 hostages, mainly Westerners, were killed.

The one-eyed Belmokhtar, who reportedly lost his left eye fighting in Afghanistan in the 1990s, has been reported killed several times in counter-terrorism operations.

Each time the death of the man who took up arms alongside the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) during Algeria's civil war of the 1990s has been denied.

Al-Qaeda allegiance

An audio recording attributed to another leading member of Al-Murabitoun pledged allegiance to the Islamic State jihadist group in May 2015.

But Belmokhtar reportedly quickly distanced himself from the declaration, vowing allegiance to IS's jihadist rival Al-Qaeda in what was seen as a sign of a power struggle. Al-Qaeda confirmed the allegiance in December, 2015.

Al-Murabitoun claimed an attack on the luxury Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital Bamako in November, 2015, in which 20 people were killed, including 14 foreigners.

AQIM said that attack was a joint operation by its forces and those of Al-Murabitoun.

The group was also behind a January 2016 attack on a hotel and restaurant popular with Westerners in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou in which 30, mostly westerners, were killed.

Belmokhtar in Libya

Reports that Belmokhtar had arrived in Libya fuelled concern that jihadists would take advantage of the political turmoil there to establish a base of operations.

In July 2016 a confidential UN report said Belmokhtar was able to travel throughout Libya with relative ease.

On Monday the US official said he likely had been killed in a strike there this month, with the support of US intelligence.

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