CAIRO (Reuters) - 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.
“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 was dead.
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”.
(This story has been refiled to complete broken sentence in paragraph 4)
Reporting by Michael Georgy; Editing by Hugh Lawson