Al Akhbar, a Mauritanian news agency that often carries statements from Al Murabitoon and other Saharan jihadist groups, reports that the group is denying that Belmokhtar was killed in the strike. "We reassure the Islamic nation and the entire jihadist brothers of the non-veracity of the information in the reports of the death of Khalid Abu Abbas (a nom de guerre of Belmokhtar) " It goes on to say that the airstrikes killed "our brothers in the Ajdabiya Shura Council." The Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council (ARSC) is a coalition of jihadist groups in the eastern Libyan town of Ajdabiya, which is close to where the airstrikes took place, and is connected to the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Sharia. It is believed that ARSC was hosting the meeting between the jihadist groups.
Al Murabitoon goes on to deny that Belmokhtar was even in the area. Even further, both ARSC and Ansar al Sharia released similar statements regarding the US airstrikes earlier this week. In the statements, the groups identify those killed in the strikes, omitting Mokhtar Belmokhtar's name. Ansar al Sharia went further than ARSC in that they exclaim "We deny the killing of any person other than those listed in the statement," a clear reference to the rumors surrounding Belmokhtar. The two jihadist groups do, however, identify the militants killed as three Moroccans and four native Libyans. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's official branch in North Africa, has also denied his death.
The Al Murabitoon statement ends with the signature "Al Murabitoon Foundation for Media Production." Al Akhbar notes that this is the first time that a statement from Al Murabitoon has included this signature, as the most recent statements sent to the news site included the signature of Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi. This could be further evidence of a split within the Al Murabitoon group.
Confusion has surrounded al Murabitoon recently, as a leader of the group, Adnan Abu Walid al Sahrawi, pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and the Islamic State and identified himself as emir of the group. However, shortly after this audio was released Belmokhtar, another leader within al Murabitoon, released a statement denying he or his Al Mulathameen Brigade pledged to the Islamic State.
Al Murabitoon was formed in 2013 when the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Belmokhtar’s Al Mulathameen Brigade merged. The aforementioned Sahrawi is a former spokesman for the MUJAO group. Soon after Sahrawi’s message was released, it became clear that he was speaking on behalf of either MUJAO or a part of MUJAO, and not Al Murabitoon as a whole.
Chadian forces operating in Mali claimed to have killed Belmokhtar alongside an AQIM leader, Abu Zeid, in northern Mali in 2013. While Abu Zeid's death was confirmed by AQIM, no statement was ever released confirming Belmokhtar's death. A few months later, a MUJAO spokesman denied his death.
A month after the MUJAO statement was released, Belmokhtar resurfaced to claim two suicide attacks in Niger. The attacks, which were a joint operation between MUJAO and Belmokhtar's group (then known as al Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or the Those Who Sign in Blood Brigade), targeted a military barracks and a uranium mine in Agadez and Arlit, respectively.
While Belmokhtar split from AQIM, he still routinely coordinates actions and is still well within the al Qaeda network as he is directly under the command of Zawahiri.