Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a top fugitive leader in Al-Qaeda’s north African branch, is in Libya shopping for weapons, Malian security sources told AFP on Monday.
“Mokhtar Belmokhtar, one of the chiefs of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been in Libya for several weeks, notably to procure arms,” a top Malian security source said.
“This is yet further proof that terrorists will do anything to create a sweeping network in the Sahel and Sahara,” the source said.
Belmokhtar is being tried in absentia in Algeria, accused of perpetrating several “terrorist acts” including a May 2010 attack on soldiers in the southern Djelfa region that left two dead.
Another Malian security said said: “Belmokhtar is in Libya which confirms that AQIM wants to extend its influence.”
Belmokhtar, a native of central Algeria, is a founding member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which later became known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Belmokhtar heads one of AQIM’s two main katibas (battalions), controlling the group’s southern area.
Nicknamed “the uncatchable”, Belmokhtar rules over a large swathe of desert that straddles Algeria, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania and where his men are believed to hold several Europeans hostage.
Belmokhtar has already been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in 2004 and 2008, and to 20 years in prison in 2007, over similar charges and the killing of 13 customs officers.
In November Belmokhtar told a Mauritanian news website that AQIM had acquired Libyan weapons during fighting that ended in the overthrow and killing of strongman Moamer Kadhafi.