UK & World News

  • 31 January 2013, 21:25

In Amenas 'Mastermind' Was Hiding In Mali

The alleged mastermind of the Algerian hostage siege was hiding out in the Malian town of Timbuktu up until about six weeks ago.

Residents told the Sky News team in the town that Mokhtar Belmokhtar was living there less than two months before the French intervention in Mali.

He has strong links to the town, having married a local Tuareg woman, but his al Qaeda-linked armed group fell out with the more dominant militants.

Most of the group are thought to have moved, probably further north.

Belmokhtar is the militant who many believe planned and directed the attack on the In Amenas gas plant, 60 miles from the Libyan border in southeast Algeria.

Some 37 foreigners, including six Britons, died in the siege, while dozens of terrorists were killed when the Algerian government stormed the site last month.

A group of French hostages were being held by the militants in Timbuktu and were spotted by townsfolk up until a few days before French troops attacked the town.

Ali Baba A Badjinde, who works at the Ahmed Baba Institute in the 12th century town, told Sky News that he had seen the hostages many times, most recently last week.

He said they were moved frequently from house to house around Timbuktu and were transported in a large truck from place to place.

"There were many more than eight hostages," he said. (Eight is the number of French believed to be being held).

"They were different nationalities - French, German, Danish and South African," he said.

The militant groups ruled Timbuktu through terror and repression.

They set up their own Islamic police, who enforced a strict interpretation of Sharia on the town's population. Playing music, smoking, even ringtones on mobile phones were all banned.

Yet while smoking was prohibited in Timbuktu, Belmokhtar was known locally as Mr Marlboro because of the cigarette smuggling racket he operated. He used the funds to buy arms and ammunition.

One of the key objectives of the French military may be to try to locate exactly where the hostages are.

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