Abduction bears the signature of jihadi Prince Belmokhtar

His entourage calls him "the Prince"; others call him "Laaouar", or the One-Eyed, after he lost an eye to shrapnel. Some call him "Mr Marlboro" for the cigarette-smuggling monopoly he created across the Sahel region to finance his jihad, and French intelligence officials called him "The Uncatchable" because he escaped after apparently being involved in a series of kidnappings in 2003 that captured 32 European tourists, an undertaking which is thought to have earned him millions of dollars in ransoms.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar, 40, born in the Algerian desert city of Ghardaļa, 350 miles south of Algiers, is now being called the mastermind of the hostage crisis at an internationally run natural-gas facility in eastern Algeria.

Algerian officials said that he mounted the assault and the mass abduction of foreigners; his spokesmen say the raid is in reprisal for the French intervention in Mali and Algeria's support for the French war against Islamist militants in the Sahel.

Belmokhtar has been active in politics, moneymaking and fighting for decades in the Sahel, which includes Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

In interviews, he has said the 1989 killing in Pakistan of Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Palestinian considered the "father of global jihad" and mentor of Osama bin Laden's, prompted him to seek to avenge Azzam's death. At 19, he travelled to Afghanistan for training with al-Qaeda, and has claimed in interviews to have made contact with other jihadi luminaries like Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, according to a 2009 Jamestown Foundation study. Bin Laden made contact with him, through emissaries, in early 2000s, according to Djallil Lounnas, at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco.

Belmokhtar later named a son Osama, after Bin Laden, and inserted himself into local populations in the southern Algerian and northern Malian desert by marrying the daughter of a prominent Arab leader from Timbuktu, Mali.

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