Alive? Mokhtar Belmokhtar
Alive? Mokhtar Belmokhtar

Al-Qaida has claimed that Moktar Belmokhtar is still alive - only hours after government forces said he had been killed.

The mastermind behind a devastating raid on the Algerian gas plant of In Amenas in January in which six Britons died, had been thought dead in a raid on a terror camp in north Mali.

Taking credit for eliminating the veteran Islamist fighter dubbed "The Uncatchable" was the government of Chad, after its forces carried out the attack on Belmokhtat militiants.

But reports are emerging that the claim is premature.

Unconfirmed reports on a militant website say that Belmokhtar is alive and well and "leading the battle himself".

Independent Arab news agency Ahrar also reported a denial from within Belmokhtar's own circle.

Belmokhtar has been wanted by the authorities for organising the gas plant raid in which 37 people were killed.

His death was trumpeted in a statement on state television by the Chad government.

A spokesman said: "Chadian armed forces operating in northern Mali destroyed a terrorist base. The toll included several terrorists, including their leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar."

Neighbouring Mali waved off Chad's bid to take credit for the terrorist commander's death. A Malian government spokesman said the claim was "a way to give some importance to their intervention."

If true, his death would throw into the balance the fates of seven French hostages held by al-Qaida in Mali.

A previous attack by Chadian forces resulted in the killing of fellow al-Qaida commander Adelhamid Abou Zeid, it was reported. His death was not denied by the source who claimed Belmokhtar was still alive.

The demise of both men would be a major blow against al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which has vowed to take revenge upon France for its involvement in efforts to push the group out of Mali.