Chad says its troops in northern Mali have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the one-eyed Islamist leader who masterminded an assault on an Algerian gas plant that left 37 foreign hostages dead in January.
The Chadian army, whose troops have been at the forefront of the hunt for al-Qaeda-linked fighters hiding in northern Mali, said Belmokhtar was killed during an operation in the Ifogha mountains on Saturday.
There was no immediate confirmation of his death from elsewhere, but US Representative Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, hailed the killing.
“This would be a hard blow to the collection of jihadists operating across the region that are targeting American diplomats and energy workers,” Royce said.
Belmokhtar, an Algerian national and Afghanistan veteran, had broken away from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) weeks ago to form a group called Signatories in Blood.
The report of the death of the man branded “The Uncatchable” came after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno announced on Friday that his forces had killed Abou Zeid, the top AQIM commander in Mali, a few days earlier.
A Mauritanian news agency said he was killed by a French air strike.
If the deaths are confirmed, the coalition will have eliminated the Sahel region’s two historical al-Qaeda leaders and decapitated the jihadist insurgency in Mali.