He has been reported killed on many occasions, only to resurface battered but alive to fight another day. Now evidence from a nurse suggests the latest US reports of the “likely” demise of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian boss of an al-Qaeda affiliate, are wide of the mark.
American military sources on 27 November told the Wall Street Journal that a French air strike in southwest Libya was “likely successful” in its aim of killing the leader of al-Mourabitoun, which has links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Not so, according to evidence from a nurse from Niger who treated him after the attack.
Algerian intelligence services, working in collaboration with counterparts in Niger, are now convinced that Belmokhtar is not dead.
“He, along with other terrorists, was targeted by an air strike last November but he got away,” an Algerian security source told Middle East Eye.
Belmokhtar is said to have been treated for serious injuries by a doctor from Ghadames, an oasis in south Libya near the border with Tunisia and Algeria, and a nurse from Niger, who has been arrested.
According to the nurse, Belmokhtar is bed-ridden with a back injury, second-degree burns and a foot wound caused by shrapnel.
Other information gives credence to suggestions that the man nicknamed the “one-eyed terrorist” is alive. That information includes the movements of the Libyan forces of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the Traghen region in south-west Libya.
Abdelbagui Bahela, a dignitary of the Amhar tribe in northern Mali, told MEE that French troops even went to Boghassa in mid-November to take DNA samples from Belmokhtar’s son, whom he had with his second wife, a member of the Amhar tribe.
“All I know is that the French did not ask for our help with that,” said an Algerian security source, who said Algeria has had DNA samples from Belmokhtar’s mother since 2013.
That was the year in which Chadian authorities announced that Belmokhtar had been killed in an attack in northern Mali and the Algerians took a sample from his mother.
“The charred remains of the men killed in November’s attack were transported to Tripoli. Work to identify them is ongoing but it was the Americans who picked them up,” the Libyan journalist Saad Bensidi Ghelami told MEE
Another indication that Belmokhtar may still be alive is the latest announcement by al-Mourabitoun that claimed the attack on a Malian army position 50km southeast of Gao on 11 November but made no mention of the loss of the group’s leader.