Gas plant terror chief 'killed'
Chad's military chief said his troops deployed in northern Mali had killed Moktar Belmoktar, the terrorist who orchestrated the attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria that left 36 foreigners dead including six Britons.
Known as the "one-eyed", Belmoktar's profile soared after the mid-January attack and mass hostage-taking on a huge Algerian gas plant.
His purported death comes a day after Chad's president said his troops had killed Abou Zeid, the other main al Qaida commander operating in northern Mali.
If both deaths are confirmed, it would mean that the international intervention in Mali had succeeded in killing two of the pillars of al-Qaida in the Sahara.
"Chad's armed forces in Mali have completely destroyed a base used by jihadists and drug traffickers in the Adrar and Ifoghas mountains" of northern Mali, army chief of staff general Zakaria Ngobongue said in a televised statement on state-owned National Chadian Television.
"The provisional toll is as follows: Several terrorists killed, including Moktar Belmoktar."
The French military moved into Mali on January 11 to push back militants linked to Belmoktar and Abou Zeid and other extremist groups which had imposed harsh Islamic rule in the north of the vast country and who were seen as an international terrorist threat.
In Paris, French military spokesman Col Thierry Burkhard said he had "no information" on the possibility that Belmoktar was dead. The Foreign Ministry refused to confirm or deny the report.
And in Kidal, Mali, an elected official said that he did not believe Belmoktar was dead and waved off the claim as an attempt by Chad to explain the loss of dozens of their troops to a grieving nation.
"These last few weeks, the Chadians have lost a significant number of soldiers in combat. (Claiming that they killed Belmoktar) is a way to give some importance to their intervention in Mali," said the official, who is in close contact with both French and Malian commanders in the field.