Mokhtar Belmokhtar

Mokhtar Belmokhtar has served as the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Maghrebian Islamist group al-Mourabitoun since July of 2015.Thomas Joscelyn, “Mokhtar Belmokhtar now leads ‘Al Qaeda in West Africa,’” Long War Journal, August 13, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/08/mokhtar-belmokhtar-now-leads-al-qaeda-in-west-africa.php. He is the former leader of the Algerian-based Islamist group al-Mulathamun (the Masked Brigade)—also known as al-Muaqioon Biddam (Those Who Sign in Blood)—which merged with another group to form al-Mourabitoun in 2013.“Belmohktar’s militants ‘merge’ with Mali’s Mujao,” BBC News, August 22, 2013,http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-23796920. Belmokhtar is also a co-founder of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).“Al Qaeda-linked group claims kidnapping of foreigners in Algeria,” Reuters, January 16, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/algeria-kidnap-claim-idUSL6N0AL8DW20130116;
“Factbox: ‘Uncatchable’ jihadist kingpin said behind Algeria raid,” Reuters, January 16, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/us-algeria-kidnap-belmokhtar-idUSBRE90F16Y20130116;
Lamine Chikhi, “Al Qaeda gets help from Mali officials: ex-rebel,” Reuters, April 12, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/12/idUSCHI251113.
In late November 2016, U.S. officials said that Belmokhtar had likely died earlier that month in a targeted French airstrike in Libya.Gordon Lubold and Matthew Dalton, “U.S.-French Operation Targeted Elusive North African Militant, U.S. Says,” Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-french-operation-targeted-elusive-north-african-militant-u-s-says-1480276417. However, in June 2018 it was reported that Belmokhtar was still alive and living in North Africa.Malek Bachir, “Armed Islamist leaders in Libya claim al-Qaeda's Belmokhtar is still alive,” Middle East Eye, June 13, 2018, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/algeria-libya-mokhtar-belmokhtar-alive-qaeda-aqim-islamic-state-1799384986.

Belmokhtar’s attacks in the name of al-Qaeda have led government officials such as U.S. Representative Ed Royce to label him “one of the most elusive and deadly terrorists in North Africa.”Myra Macdonald, “Analysis: Without Belmokhtar, jihadi networks would suffer,” Reuters, March 3, 2013,http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/03/us-mali-belmokhtar-qaeda-idUSBRE9220EN20130303. On November 20, 2015, his group claimed responsibility for a gun and hostage attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali. The attack—which the group claims was carried out alongside AQIM—claimed the lives of 20 people.“Mali hotel attack: Three days of national mourning begin,” BBC News, November 23, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34897745. On January 15, 2016, the two groups are believed to have carried out a joint attack on a hotel in Burkina Faso and a police station outside of the capital, killing 30 people of 18 nationalities.Nadia Khomami, "Burkina Faso hotel attack: 18 nationalities among dead," Guardian (London), January 16, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/15/security-forces-battle-suspected-jihadists-in-burkina-faso-capital;
Jason Burke, "Burkina Faso attack signals spread of Islamist menace," Guardian (London), January 16, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/16/burkina-faso-attack-signals-spread-of-islamist-menace;
Tim Lister, "Burkina Faso attack demonstrates al Qaeda revival in Africa," CNN, January 16, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/16/world/burkina-faso-attack-al-qaeda/;
Drew Hinshaw and Zoumana Wonogo, “Al Qaeda Attacks in Burkina Faso Kill at Least 30,” Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/operation-ends-at-burkina-faso-hotel-seized-by-al-qaeda-1452936866.

Following the November 2016 airstrike targeting Belmokhtar, U.S. and French officials refused to immediately confirm the terrorist’s death.Gordon Lubold and Matthew Dalton, “U.S.-French Operation Targeted Elusive North African Militant, U.S. Says,” Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2016, http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-french-operation-targeted-elusive-north-african-militant-u-s-says-1480276417. Belmokhtar has been reported killed on multiple occasions, and was the target of a June 2015 U.S. airstrike in Libya.Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Airstrike in Libya Targets Planner of 2013 Algeria Attack,” New York Times, June 14, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/15/world/middleeast/us-airstrike-targets-qaeda-operative-in-libya.html;
Peter Cooney and Arshad Mohammed, “U.S. Confirms Militant Belmokhtar Was Target of Libya Air Strike,” Reuters, June 15, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-usa-target-idUSKBN0OV00P20150615?mod=related&channelName=worldNews.
The Libyan government initially said that Belmokhtar was killed in the strike,Reuters, “Libya Says 'Uncatchable' Veteran Militant Killed in U.S. Strike,” New York Times, June 15, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/06/15/world/africa/15reuters-usa-libya.html. but later told the Associated Press that tests were needed to determine his status.Sarah El Deeb and Lolita C. Baldor, “Libya: Unclear if US strikes killed al-Qaida leader,” Associated Press, June 15, 2015, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/b80013646d354dadbef3907523bf5150/libyan-islamist-says-us-strike-missed-al-qaida-linked. The U.S. government did not confirm Belmokhtar’s death in the June 2015 strike, and the terrorist purportedly resurfaced in succeeding months. In July of 2015, al-Mourabitoun’s shura council named Belmokhtar as the group’s leader.Thomas Joscelyn, “Mokhtar Belmokhtar now leads ‘Al Qaeda in West Africa,’” Long War Journal, August 13, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/08/mokhtar-belmokhtar-now-leads-al-qaeda-in-west-africa.php. In October of 2016, a man claiming to be Belmokhtar issued a written statement eulogizing Tuareg leader Sheikh Ag Aoussa.Thomas Joscelyn, “Tuareg leader honored in eulogy attributed to Mokhtar Belmokhtar,” Long War Journal, October 14, 2016, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/10/tuareg-leader-honored-in-eulogy-attributed-to-mokhtar-belmokhtar.php. The following month, authorities suspected Belmokhtar’s involvement in the Radisson Blu Hotel attack in Mali.“Mali hotel attack: Three days of national mourning begin,” BBC News, November 23, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34897745;
Agence France-Presse, “French minister says Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar 'likely behind' Mali attack,” Yahoo News, November 20, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/french-minister-says-algerian-jihadist-mokhtar-belmokhtar-likely-195530693.html;
Missy Ryan, “The U.S. still doesn’t know if it’s killed this legendary one-eyed militant,” Washington Post, February 17, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/02/17/the-u-s-government-thought-it-had-killed-this-legendary-militant-now-its-not-so-sure/.

Belmokhtar reportedly began his violent Islamist training at age 19, when he traveled to Afghanistan to fight pro-Soviet forces. Belmokhtar allegedly lost his left eye in battle. He returned to Algeria in 1992, joined the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), and fought in Algeria’s civil war. He eventually joined a GIA breakaway group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).“Factbox: ‘Uncatchable’ jihadist kingpin said behind Algeria raid,” Reuters, January 16, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/us-algeria-kidnap-belmokhtar-idUSBRE90F16Y20130116;
“Profile: Mokhtar Belmokhtar,” BBC News, June 15, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-21061480.

Belmokhtar was one of GSPC’s leaders by the time the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2007. Belmokhtar co-founded the group under its new name, AQIM. He went on to command one of AQIM’s two major brigades, and was responsible for most of the group’s hostage operations targeting foreigners.ldquo;Al Qaeda-linked group claims kidnapping of foreigners in Algeria,” Reuters, January 16, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/algeria-kidnap-claim-idUSL6N0AL8DW20130116;
“Factbox: ‘Uncatchable’ jihadist kingpin said behind Algeria raid,” Reuters, January 16, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/us-algeria-kidnap-belmokhtar-idUSBRE90F16Y20130116;
Lamine Chikhi, “Al Qaeda gets help from Mali officials: ex-rebel,” Reuters, April 12, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/12/idUSCHI251113.
He was also, according to security experts, the architect of AQIM’s support network in the Sahara desert.Lamine Chikhi, “Al Qaeda gets help from Mali officials: ex-rebel,” Reuters, April 12, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/12/idUSCHI251113. Because of his activities with AQIM, Interpol has issued international arrest warrants for Belmokhtar on behalf of the Algerian and Canadian governments.“Belmokhtar, Mokhtar Wanted By The Judicial Authorities of Algeria For Prosecution / To Serve A Sentence,” Interpol, accessed November 15, 2016, https://www.interpol.int/notice/search/wanted/2002-16355;
“Belmokhtar, Mokhtar Wanted By The Judicial Authorities of Canada For Prosecution / To Serve A Sentence,” Interpol, accessed November 15, 2016, https://www.interpol.int/notice/search/wanted/2013-52008.

In the Sahara, Belmokhtar integrated himself into local communities, earning loyalty by marrying into influential tribes and buying off local leaders. “PENPIX-The main players in al Qaeda's Saharan operations,” Reuters, April 12, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/12/idUSCHI137569; “Factbox: ‘Uncatchable’ jihadist kingpin said behind Algeria raid,” Reuters, January 16, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/16/us-algeria-kidnap-belmokhtar-idUSBRE90F16Y20130116. He also gained loyalty through his ability to procure food and jobs from his cigarette smuggling business. Fellow militants nicknamed Belmokhtar “the diplomat” as a result of his ability to build regional alliances, and he was even reported to have established ties with senior Malian officials.Lamine Chikhi, “Al Qaeda gets help from Mali officials: ex-rebel,” Reuters, April 12, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/12/idUSCHI251113. According to one insurgent speaking in 2010, local tribes in Mali and Niger considered him “more popular than their presidents.”Lamine Chikhi, “Al Qaeda gets help from Mali officials: ex-rebel,” Reuters, April 12, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/12/idUSCHI251113.

In late 2012, Belmokhtar split from AQIM and formed al-Mulathamun. In 2013, Belmokhtar and his group claimed responsibility for what is considered one of the worst international hostage crises in decades, a four-day siege on Algeria’s In-Amenas gas plant that culminated in the death of 38 hostages, most of whom were foreigners. Belmokhtar has launched violent attacks in Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania, among others.Lamine Chikhi, “WRAPUP 6-Algeria hostage crisis death toll hits 80, could rise further,” Reuters, January 20, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/20/sahara-crisis-idUSL6N0AO37H20130120;
Lamine Chikhi, “WRAPUP 8-Algeria accuses Canadian, puts hostage toll at 38,” Reuters, January 21, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/21/sahara-crisis-idUSL6N0AP4TU20130121;
“Niger attacks launched from southern Libya - Niger's president,” Reuters, May 25, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/25/niger-attacks-libya-idUSL5N0E60DD20130525;
“Al Qaeda's widening North African jihad confounds foes,” Reuters, August 9, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/09/security-qaeda-maghreb-idUSL6N0G630B20130809;
Associated Press, “3 dead, 12 wounded in attack on UN base in Mali,” Fox News, March 8, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/03/08/mali-3-dead-12-wounded-in-attack-on-un-base-in-northeastern-city-kidal/.

In May 2017, al-Mourabiton’s council of elders dismissed Belmokhtar as the group’s leader after an extended absence from leadership meetings dating back to the 2016 airstrike. His deputy, Abderrahmane al-Sanhaji, was chosen to replace him as the group’s new leader.Malek Bachir, “EXCLUSIVE: Notorious leader of Saharan al-Qaeda group loses power,” Middle East Eye, May 9, 2017, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-belmokhtar-dismissed-leadership-al-mourabitoun-274790462. That year on November 15, the Algerian government sentenced Belmokhtar to death in absentia after finding him guilty of forming and leading a terrorist organization as well as dealing weapons.“Algeria: Death sentence for Mokhtar Belmokhtar,” Middle East Monitor, October 16, 2017, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171016-algeria-death-sentence-for-mokhtar-belmokhtar/. In June 2018, reports surfaced that Belmokhtar was still alive and currently living somewhere between the borders of Chad, Niger, and Mali.Malek Bachir, “Armed Islamist leaders in Libya claim al-Qaeda's Belmokhtar is still alive,” Middle East Eye, June 13, 2018, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/algeria-libya-mokhtar-belmokhtar-alive-qaeda-aqim-islamic-state-1799384986.

 
United States

October 24, 2003

The U.S. Department of the Treasury listed Mokhtar Belmokhtar as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on October 24, 2003.“U.S. Designates Three Individuals And One Organization Involved In Terrorism In Algeria,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 24, 2003, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/js944.aspx.

United Nations

November 11, 2003

The United Nations designated Mokhtar Belmokhtar, pursuant to paragraphs 1 and 2 of resolution 1390 (2002), as an associate of Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden or the Taliban for “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf, or in support of” and “recruiting for” the Organization of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (QE.T.14.01).“NARRATIVE SUMMARIES OF REASONS FOR LISTING: QI.B.136.03. Mokhtar Belmokhtar,” U.N. Security Council, July 8, 2009, last updated September 9, 2014, https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summaries/individual/mokhtar-belmokhtar.

Return to Full Database

Take action:

Help Counter Extremism

Stay updated on the latest

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On April 10, 2020, ISIS launched an attack in Homs, central Syria, killing at least 27 pro-government fighters. ISIS also took control of some neighborhoods in Al-Sukhna. 

View Archive

CEP on Twitter