Chad's military chief has announced that his troops deployed in northern Mali had killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the terrorist who orchestrated the attack on a natural gas plant in Algeria that left 36 foreigners dead.
The French military, which is leading the offensive against al-Qaida-linked rebels in Mali, said they could not immediately confirm the information.
Local officials in Kidal, the northern town that is being used as the base for the military operation, cast doubt on the assertion, saying Chadian officials are attempting to score a PR victory to make up for the significant losses they have suffered in recent days.
Known as the "one-eyed," Belmokhtar's profile soared after the mid-January attack and mass hostage-taking on a huge Algerian gas plant. His purported death comes a day after Chad's president said his troops had killed Abou Zeid, the other main al-Qaeda commander operating in northern Mali.
If both deaths are confirmed, it would mean that the international intervention in Mali had succeeded in decapitating two of the pillars of al-Qaeda in the Sahara.
"Chad's armed forces in Mali have completely destroyed a base used by jihadists and narco-traffickers in the Adrar and Ifoghas mountains" of northern Mali, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Zakaria Ngobongue said in a televised statement on state-owned National Chadian Television.
"The provisional toll is as follows: Several terrorists killed, including Mokhtar Belmokhtar."