US charges Mokhtar Belmokhtar over Algerian gas plant seige
New York: US authorities have charged the former leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Mokhtar Belmokhtar, over the deadly January siege at an Algerian gas plant and other crimes.
The one-eyed Algerian Islamist -- who allegedly masterminded the seizure in which 38 hostages, including three Americans, died -- was charged on eight counts, including kidnapping and conspiring to take hostages.
Both carry maximum sentences of life in prison.
The charge sheet also includes a count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction at the time of the siege, during which Belmokhtar and his associates threatened to blow up the entire plant.
Branded "The Uncatchable," Belmokhtar is also thought to have been behind twin car bombings in Niger in May that left at least 20 people dead.
Both that attack and the assault on the Algerian gas plant were carried out in retaliation for France`s military intervention against Islamist groups in Mali.
Belmokhtar, who broke away from AQIM in 2012 to form his own group, known as the "Signatories in Blood," was involved in the fighting against Chadian forces in Mali and was reported to have been killed in action in March.
The reports, however, were never confirmed and US authorities said yesterday that he remains at large.
Belmokhtar has been designated a foreign terrorist by the United States since 2003, with the State Department offering a USD 5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
"Belmokhtar brought terror and blood to these innocent people and now we intend to bring Belmokhtar to justice," Manhattan Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement announcing the charges.
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