When we say “Libya,” we of course refer to the government that controls a significant part of Bayda and not much else, so take this with a grain of salt. Mokhtar Belmokhtar runs terrorist operations in Algeria and other parts of North Africa, the most infamous of which was the seizure of an Algerian oil field and the murders of more than 40 workers in 2013. There have been other claims of Belmokhtar’s demise in the past, so the US is taking its time in assessing the fruits of their strike on the man the French call “The Uncatchable”:
The recognized government said the strike had killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian militant who became a major figure in insurgencies across North Africa and the Saharan border region and was dubbed “The Uncatchable” by the French military.
The U.S. military confirmed Belmokhtar had been targeted in Saturday night’s air strike but did not say if he was killed.
The Pentagon was continuing to assess the results of the operation, spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said in a statement.
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.
He’s definitely a top target, but notoriously slippery:
It certainly sounds as though the US had gotten a bead on Belmokhtar:
Federal prosecutors in New York had charged the one-eyed Belmokhtar in 2013 with crimes related to a brazen attack on a gas facility in Algeria were 37 hostages died. Three Americans were among the dead.
“It was a single strike conducted by a manned aircraft,” a Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the operation told CNN. There were no U.S. personnel on the ground, the official said.
U.S. aerial intelligence assets were tracking Belmokhtar’s movements at the time of the raid, the U.S. official said, but the outcome of the operation was still being assessed.
If they took out a terror-leader meeting, it might be a broader win for the US than just Belmokhtar, but they’ll take the narrower win too. He was considered the leader of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), at one time considered the most active of AQ’s affiliates, directing terror operations throughout the region. The French have wanted him captured or killed for years, and the US had a $5 million bounty on his head since 2003. The collapse of Libya after the US-led effort to decapitate the Qaddafi regime allowed Belmokhtar to operate much more freely there, but in this moment may have led him to presume that he was not just “uncatchable” but untouchable as well. If so, he made a very bad miscalculation, but don’t count this as a win until confirmation comes through. This cat has had more than nine lives on the field of terror.
Update: Made an editorial change to the last paragraph to make the lead sentence more clear.