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Moktar Belmoktar, al Qaeda linked terror commander behind Ain Amenas gas plant attack in Algeria, resurfaces

London Moktar Belmoktar, the leader of the terrorist group behind a deadly siege on a remote gas plant in the Algerian desert in January which left 37 foreign workers dead, has surfaced in a new video, quashing claims that he was killed by African forces in northern Mali in March.

A 51-minute video released online late Tuesday shows Belmoktar training other militants and, in a clear time reference showing he apparently wasn't killed by Chadian soldiers in March, he's seen bidding farewell to suicide bombers who carried out a dual attack on a French petroleum company and a military post in northern Mali on May 23, 2013.

Discussions continue in Algeria about when foreign workers might return to the Ain Amenas gas field, which is operated as a joint venture by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's state oil company Sonatrach.

The standoff between Algerian forces and Belmoktar's militants at Ain Amenas ended after four days, when Algerian special forces stormed the remote natural gas complex where hundreds of workers had been held captive. Some of the hostages were able to escape from the gas plant before Algerian special forces launched their final assault, but when the dust settled, 37 hostages, including three Americans and one Algerian security guard, and 29 militants were killed.

The new video shows the one-eyed leader of the "Signatories with their Blood" group, Belmoktar, chatting with another prominent jihadist, Abdel Hamid Abou Zaid, who was also said by the French to have been killed during confrontations with their forces in northern Mali earlier in the year.

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller reported in January, after the Ain Amenas attack, that Belmoktar was an Algerian who left home at the age of 19 to join the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in their war to rout the Russian occupiers who had installed a puppet government.

Returning to Algeria in 1993, Belmoktar joined the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and became part of the network that used bombs and guns in a bloody civil war aimed at the overthrow of the Algerian government. During one of those battles, Belmoktar was handling explosives that detonated prematurely. He survived but lost an eye.

The GIA was not a standalone terrorist group in Algeria. It was an early part of the pipeline that fed eventually into the al Qaeda network. As part of this shifting organization, the GIA in Algeria merged with Osama bin Laden's group to become al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) - the larger group's North Africa franchise.

Belmoktar became a big cash earner for AQIM, managing human smuggling operations between Algeria and Italy, trafficking counterfeit cigarettes -- which earned him the nickname "Marlboro Man" -- and the biggest-ticket item, kidnapping. U.S. intelligence estimates suggest AQIM raked in $90 million from the various operations.

Intelligence sources say his rising independence caused friction within AQIM and with its leader, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud, and eventually Belmoktar split from the al Qaeda franchise and began operating independently -- even in competition with AQIM -- under the banner of the "Masked Brigades." That name was later abandoned in favor of the "Signatories with their Blood" title.

As French and African troops, backed by air strikes, fought to retake territory seized by groups like Belmoktar's in northern Mali at the beginning of 2013 -- many with loose affiliations to al Qaeda -- the militants managed to disperse. The French repeatedly arrived in towns in their northward advance to find the militants had already disappeared into the surrounding desert.

Before France finished its operations in northern Mali, Belmoktar's group was able to take the gas field in neighboring Algeria, along with hundreds of hostages to be used as a human wedge -- leverage to try and slow down France's advance in northern Mali.

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