America's newest enemy: Moktar Belmoktar

Al Qaeda militants holding American hostages in Algeria
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - The leader of the terror group involved in the Algeria hostage situation, Moktar Belmoktar, has an entourage that calls him "The prince."

But that's just one of his aliases.

He also goes by "One Eye" because he lost an eye fighting in Afghanistan , as well as "The Marlboro Man" because he made a living smuggling cigarettes.

Who are the terrorists that Islamic militants want freed?

No Westerner knows him better than former Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler, who was his hostage in 2008.

"He would stand sentry duty. He would work in the kitchen, but there was absolutely no doubt who was the boss," Fowler said. "He wasn't a flashy guy in any way. He was rather soft spoken, but as soon as he began speaking, everybody would listen."

Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler (center bottom row), while he was being held hostage by Moktar Belmoktar and al Qaeda-affiliated militants
Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler (center), while he was being held hostage by Moktar Belmoktar and al Qaeda-affiliated militants CBS News

Belmoktar has been known to intelligence agencies as a leader of the North African affiliate of al Qaeda, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

"They would tell me repeatedly, 'We fight to die while you fight to go home to your wives and kids. How can we possibly lose?' They believed their fight was God's fight and because it was God's fight, it would be won," Fowler said.

They began under a different name and in 1994 hijacked an airliner, which was stormed by French commandos, heading off a plan to blow it up over the Eiffel tower. Belmoktar even named one of his sons after Osama bin Laden.

"He's very tough," Fowler said. "He seems physically demanding. He demands a lot of his people and therefore, yes, I'd say he's a tough enemy."

Whatever name he operates under, Belmoktar has suddenly emerged from the North African desert as America's newest enemy.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.