N'DJAMENA, Chad - Chad's military chief announced late Saturday that his troops deployed in northern Mali had killed Moktar Belmoktar, 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 trying to score a PR victory to make up for the significant losses they have suffered in recent days.
Belmoktar'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-Qaida commander operating in northern Mali.
If both deaths are confirmed, it would mean the international intervention in Mali had succeeded in decapitating two of the pillars of al-Qaida in the Sahara.
"Chad's armed forces in Mali have completely destroyed a base used by jihadists and narcotraffickers in the Adrar and Ifoghas mountains" of northern Mali, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Zakaria Ngobongue said in a televised statement. "The provisional toll is as follows: Several terrorists killed, including Moktar Belmoktar."
The French military moved into Mali on Jan. 11 to push back militants linked to Belmoktar and Abou Zeid and other extremist groups that had imposed harsh Islamic rule in Mali's north and who were seen as an international terrorist threat.