Attack puts veteran terrorist back in spotlight

U.S. military officials said he was targeted, only for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to deny four days later that he was dead.

Islamist gunmen moving "floor by floor" through Mali hotel

The deadly attack on a hotel in Mali's capital on Friday claimed by two radical Islamist groups has put veteran militant leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar back in the spotlight months after he was reported killed.

Belmokhtar, who is Algerian, has been a key figure for years in insurgencies across North Africa and the Saharan border region, but in June authorities in Libya said he had been killed by a U.S. air strike there.

U.S. military officials said he was targeted, only for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to deny four days later that he was dead.

In a statement posted on Twitter on June 19, the group said he was "still alive and well and he wanders and roams in the land of Allah, supporting his allies and vexing his enemies".

His group Al Mourabitoun now claims to have stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako in a joint operation with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in which 27 people have been reported killed.

"He (Belmokhtar) has been wanted by several countries for a long time and he is probably behind this attack," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told TF1 television.

"Al Mourabitoun is a mixture of fundamentalists and bandits, who traffic weapons and drugs to finance themselves," he said. The U.S. government also believes the two groups staged the attack, a government source said.

Al Mourabitoun has staged several attacks in Mali and the region, but Belmokhtar has had a troubled relationship with al Qaeda. His group has not pledged allegiance to Islamic State, as Nigerian militant group Boko Haram did in March.

One security source said the Bamako attack could serve to refocus global attention on al Qaeda after Islamic State, which controls a swathe of Iraq and Syria, launched coordinated assaults a week ago in Paris in which at least 129 people died.

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