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Terrorist wanted in Algerian attack charged in New York

By Jesse Solomon, CNN
July 20, 2013 -- Updated 0613 GMT (1413 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 3 Americans died in a brazen attack on a gas facility earlier this year
  • Federal prosecutors charge an Algerian Islamist fighter with crimes related to the attack
  • The man, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is founder of the group that claimed responsibility for the attack
  • Belmokhtar is being sought internationally

(CNN) -- Federal prosecutors in New York on Friday charged a one-eyed veteran Islamist fighter with crimes related to a brazen attack on a gas facility in Algeria earlier this year that left 37 hostages dead, including three Americans.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar was charged on various conspiracy counts including hostage-taking, kidnapping, providing material support to al Qaeda, and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern district of New York. He is currently at large.

While there was no elaboration from federal prosecutors on why the charges against a non-U.S. citizen, stemming from an attack in Alergia, were filed in New York, the attack resulted in deaths of Americans.

"Mokhtar Belmokhtar unleashed a reign of terror years ago, in furtherance of his self-proclaimed goal of waging bloody jihad against the West," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a release from the Justice Department. "His efforts culminated in a five-day siege that left dozens dead, including three Americans, and hundreds of others fearing for their lives."

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Belmokhtar is the founder of the Signed-in-Blood Battalion, also known as the al-Mulathamun Battalion. The group claimed responsibility for the January attack.

"The charges against Mokhtar Belmokhtar describe a fanatical jihadist leading an extremist vanguard of an extremist ideology," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said in the Justice Department statement. "As alleged, he kidnapped diplomats, formed his own terrorist organization that pledged fealty to al-Qaeda, and masterminded the murderous siege of a civilian plant in Algeria that resulted in the deaths of dozens of hostages."

In the Algerian siege, heavily-armed militants in pickup trucks struck a sprawling state-owned natural gas complex near In Amenas, gathered the Westerners who worked there into a group and tied them up, according to Algerian Prime Minister Prime Minister Abdul Malek Sallal.

After taking control of the facility, the militants planted explosives throughout the complex.

The military tried to negotiate with the militants, but their demands to release militants held prisoner in Algeria were deemed unreasonable, leading to intervention by special forces troops backed by the Algerian Air Force, according to Sallal.

The gas facility operated in cooperation with foreign energy firms such as Norway's Statoil and Britain's BP -- and as such, employed workers from several Western countries.

Belmokhtar said the attack was in retaliation for Algeria allowing France to use its airspace to battle Islamist militants in Mali.

Belmokhtar was designated as a foreign terrorist by the United States Department of Treasury in 2003 and is considered a key figure in al Qaeda's efforts in North Africa.

The State Department has a $5 million dollar reward out for information on his whereabouts.

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