Mokhtar Belmokhtar: One-eyed man with a vision

by Hervé Pugi.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a Jihadist turned into a (quasi) legend by… his adversaries. Reported dead many times, Washington has put a 5 million dollar price on his head, and he is in the IS line of fire. All the more glory for someone who « dreams of only one thing: to die a martyr ».

No doubt about it, Mokhtar Belmokhtar is hard to catch. The brain of the attack on the In-Amenas gas facility (some 40 dead) in southern Algeria in January 2013, had already led several lives. Now 43 years old, “Khaled” first took up arms in 1991 in Afghanistan. Unable to prove himself in combat, the native of Ghardaïa decided that the future belongs to radical Islamism. In 1993, having earned the moniker “One-Eye” after losing an eye in an expedition in Afghanistan, he launched his own katiba guerilla band, swiftly establishing himself as an influential leader of the armed Islamic group. And no less barbarous for all that.

Paradoxically, however, the one-eyed proved himself a visionary. In 1998, perplexed by the turn of events in Algeria, he began forging links with Al-Qaeda. The battle lost, Belmokhtar began to long for new horizons. For Western intelligence services, he became an obsession: Niger, Mauritania and Senegal – his shadow fell far and wide. With a power to do harm that sets him apart, a kind of mad dog in the midst of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), the future Islamic Maghreb Al-Qaeda (AQIM).

Turned into Marlboro Man by Algerian intelligence services keen on discrediting him, “MBM” specialized in kidnapping foreigners, one way of funding his destiny… His latest hunting ground? Mali. Using his relations and setting up advantageous clan marriages, Belmokhtar is rubbing shoulders, even if it means hitting on his Algerian partners, so as to enroll leading Sub-Saharan Islamists into AQIM.

With his rare strategic intelligence, the personality of Khaled Abou Al-Abbas, his nom de guerre, is hard to pin down. The break came in late 2012. Belmokhtar formed his own group, « Les Signataires par le Sang » [Blood Brothers], which became Al-Mourabitoune after its merger with Malians from Mujao. In Mali, his bodyguards were shot, victims of a targeted hit. Since Derna, everyone but Belmokhtar has reiterated their allegiance to Al-Qaeda while a certain section of Al-Mourabitoune has on its own initiative turned to IS. A rivalry that sets a new game plan, with the publication by IS in summer 2015 of a Wanted Notice for the person who in the meantime was the self-proclaimed head of Al-Qaeda in West Africa and had formed the AQIM.

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