Chief of Algeria hostage takers killed: agency

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 18 2013 08:21 AM | Updated as of Jan 18 2013 04:21 PM

NOAKCHOTT - Abu al-Baraa, who led an Islamist militant attack on a gas field in southern Algeria that ended in the deaths of many foreign and local hostages, was himself reported killed on Thursday.

The chief hostage taker's death was reported by the Mauritanian news agency ANI, which often carries reliable reports from groups linked to Al-Qaeda.

"We demand the Algerian army pull out from the area to allow negotiations," Abu al-Baraa earlier told Al-Jazeera news channel after the militants said on Wednesday they held 41 foreigners hostage.

But Algeria insisted it would not negotiate with "terrorists," and its forces launched a dramatic rescue operation on Thursday that resulted in the deaths of many hostages.

Algiers confirmed several captives had been killed or wounded. The kidnappers claimed an air and ground assault on the In Amenas gas complex had left 34 hostages dead.

The Islamists said 15 of their number were also killed. A foreign diplomat in Algiers confirmed the rescue mission "did not go too well for the hostages."

According to the Mauritanian news site Al-Akhbar, Baraa was "one of the most important chiefs of the Mokhtar Belmokhtar brigade."

Veteran Islamist fighter Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed Algerian jihadist with Al-Qaeda ties, has claimed responsibility for launching the attack.

Dubbed "The Uncatchable" by French intelligence and "Mister Marlboro" for his illicit cigarette smuggling, Belmokhtar was until recently one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Al-Akbar said Baraa was also "probably of Algerian nationality," and said he was born in the late 1970s and became a member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

The same site said he had helped to infiltrate armed Islamists into northern Mali.

© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse