Zeid or Belmokhtar? Chad army's photo sparks debate
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A snapshot taken by an RFI journalist in Tessalit, northeastern Mali, of a photograph displayed on a Chadian soldier’s mobile phone, is believed to show the body of Islamist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who Chadian forces say they killed on Saturday.
The photo was taken by RFI journalist Madjiasra Nako, who travelled to Tessalit in Mali’s extreme north on Sunday, where he met Chadian soldiers returning from the frontline who showed him their mobile phone photographs and claimed that the photo was of Belmokhtar.
Around 15 Islamic militants were killed overnight in heavy fighting with French and Chadian forces in northeastern Mali, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFMTV Tuesday.
The defence ministry has said dozens of Islamists have died in the area over the past few days. A third French soldier died in the conflict on Saturday.
The photo shows a body, whose face is covered in blood, wrapped in fabric - believed to be that of Belmokhtar who Chad says they killed in the remote Ametetai Valley of northern Mali.
Conflicting reports have since emerged over the deceased’s identity. French magazine Paris Match on Tuesday published the same image on its website claiming that it was a photograph of Abou Zeid, the top al Qaeda commander whom the Chadian military claims to have killed last Friday.
Chadian journalist Abdelnasser Garboa said he recognised Zeid immediately. “The soldier who took the photo … agreed with me,” he said.
But French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday said that there is no “proof of death” of either Belmokhtar or Abou Zeid, as Chadian President Idriss Délby once again stated that his army had killed Belmokhtar, before adding that his corpse was hidden out of respect for the Islam religion.
On Monday a member of al Qaeda claimed that Zeid's death was the result of a bombing raid in the Ifoghas Mountains, but denied reports that Belmokhtar was dead and said he was “in the Gao region, waging the fight against the enemy.”
A notorious kidnapper, smuggler and jihadist who went by a number of nicknames, from “The Uncatchable” to “Mr Marlboro,” veteran Islamist chief Belmokhtar is believed to have been behind the January attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed dozens of foreigners.