BAMAKO, Mali, April 3 (UPI) -- An al-Qaida group in West Africa said there was no truth to claims that terrorist commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar was killed in Mali.
A Radio France International reported last month returned from a visit to Mali with an image taken from the cell phone of a Chadian solider said to depict the body of Belmokhtar, a leader of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Hamad el-Khairy, leader of an al-Qaida committee on Islamic law, was quoted by The Long War Journal, an online forum monitoring al-Qaida activity, that claims of Belmokhtar's death are "merely unfounded lies."
The U.S. State Department last month said it wasn't able to verify reports Belmokhtar was killed in military operations in Mali. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said there was "no proof of death."
The government of Chad remained committed to claims that AQIM's commander was killed during counter-terrorism operations in north Mali in early March, the Journal reported.
The Malian government in January called for military assistance from former colonial power France to help recapture northern cities seized by foreign and al-Qaida fighters last year.
French and Malian forces have since liberated some northern cities, though the insurgency has continued.