Mokhtar Belmokhtar leder gruppen som angrep In Amenas-anlegget. De kallser seg «de som undertegner med blod». Det gir en ide om innstillingen. En talsmann for gruppen sier at deres aksjon er et ledd i krigen mot «jøder og korsfarere». Det sier noe om hvor denne gruppen hører til politisk: de har mye til felles med det man oppfatter ytterste høyre fløy.
Det gjøres et nummer av at Belmokhtar også driver med kriminell virksomhet. Det gjør ham ikke til kriminell i vanlig forstand. Troende kan benytte seg av alle metoder for å skaffe midler til krigen mot de vantro. Belmokhtar smugler sigaretter, narkotika, mennesker. Det spiller ingen rolle. Han har heller ingen skrupler med å drepe uskyldige, hvis han ser det formålstjenlig.
«This invasion comes in the global campaign of fighting the Jews and the Crusaders,» the statement reads, echoing al Qaeda’s many calls for global jihad.Belmokhtar, who is also known as Khalid Abu al Abbas, long served as an al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) commander, but had a falling out with the group’s senior leadership. Late last year, he formed his own splinter group, but that group still answers to al Qaeda’s senior leadership.
In an interview with the Associated Press in December, one of Belmokhtar’s confidants confirmed the move and explained his motivation.
«It’s true,» said Oumar Ould Hamaha, who has held positions in AQIM, Ansar al Din, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO). Hamaha continued: «It’s so that we can better operate in the field that we have left this group which is tied to the ‘Maghreb’ appellation. We want to enlarge our zone of operation throughout the entire Sahara, going from Niger through to Chad and Burkina Faso.»
The AP added: «Hamaha said, however, that while he and Belmokhtar have left the North African branch, they remain under the orders of al Qaeda central.»
Belmokhtar was designated an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist by the United Nations in 2003. The UN described him as «a former Algerian soldier with experience in training camps in Afghanistan» and explained that he had belonged to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), as well as its successor, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Belmokhtar has compiled an extensive dossier of illegal activity, according to the UN, including kidnappings, gunrunning, robbery, «forming terrorist groups,» and murder. He also reportedly runs an extensive cigarette smuggling operation.
In March 2008, an Algerian court sentenced Belmokhtar «in absentia to lifetime imprisonment for the murder of 13 custom officers.» In December 2008, he was involved in the kidnapping «of two Canadian diplomats working for the United Nations.» Dozens of other kidnappings also have been attributed to Belmokhtar.