TEL AVIV – Mokhtar Belmokhtar, leader of Al Murabitoon, an al-Qaeda affiliate operating in West Africa, is thought to be behind the deadly assault on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali on Friday.
Belmokhtar’s group took responsibility for the brazen 10-hour siege that left 27 people dead, including five attackers.
The assault, which targeted a hotel popular with foreigners, was strikingly similar to the In Amenas hostage crisis in January 2013, when gunmen associated with Belmokhtar took hostages inside a foreign-owned natural gas facility and held them for four days. Thirty-nine foreign hostages were killed in the ensuing violence and rescue attempt.
Belmokhtar has a largely overlooked connection to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi.
Citing sources in direct contact with Western intelligence agencies, CNN reported that, in the aftermath of the fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya, Belmokhtar established relations with extremist groups in the country and visited Libya for four months starting in December 2011.
In May 2013, CNN quoted two sources with high-level access to Western intelligence agencies saying that shortly after the Benghazi attacks, a phone call was made from the area of the assault to Belmokhtar’s group.
The man who made the call sounded excited and said, “Mabruk! Mabruk!” meaning “congratulations” in Arabic, the sources said.
One of the sources told CNN the call was made directly to Belmokhtar.
The CIA had no comment on the alleged call.
Aside from the CNN report, a senior Algerian official told the New York Times that three of the terrorists who survived Belmokhtar’s Algerian gas siege said they were aided by Egyptian extremists who were involved in the Benghazi attack.
And in August 2013, Reuters reported on several links between the Benghazi and Algerian gas complex attackers.
The news agency quoted one source with knowledge of U.S. investigations into the two attacks as saying “some of the men” involved in the Algerian siege also took part in the Benghazi attack.
A second source cited by Reuters said there “had definitely been some kind of contact between the Benghazi and In Amenas attackers” but the source could not say to what extent.
Reuters further reported that a third source “said some of the jihadis at In Amenas had bought weapons and stayed for months in the Libyan city of El Aouinet near the Algerian border, where they met some of the men behind the Benghazi attack.”