The violent chapters of Belmokhtar’s life are numerous and he has led a life of significant notoriety. In the 1980s, he joined the Mujahideen in their fight against Soviet forces. He eventually graduated to the ranks of the Maghreb’s chapter of al-Qaeda, but left to form his own militia, called “Those Who Sign With Blood”.
Throughout his jihadist career, Belmokhtar racked up a horrifying body count. With a past of rampant kidnappings and murders, Belmokhtar became well known to the International authorities when he led the attack on the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in 2013 - when about 800 people were taken hostage and 40 killed.
Before that, Belmokhtar was blamed for the 2003 kidnappings of 32 European tourists and the murder of 13 Algerian customs workers - likely for getting in the way of his primary source of income. He earned the name “Mr.Marlboro” for exploiting the illegal tobacco trade in North Africa to fund his extremist campaigns. After the nickname spread, Belmokhtar not only came to the attention of International Governments, but also the anti-tobacco community.
Belmokhtar represents the supremely dark underbelly of the Tobacco Industry - a man whose crimes against humanity may well have been to the benefit of Big Tobacco. A previous article of ours highlighted how the illegal tobacco trade secretly aids Big Tobacco in spreading their product. Belmokhtar was certainly one of those men who capitalized on the opportunity.
The money that he made from smuggling illegal cigarettes funding various bloody actions that claimed the lives of hundreds. Belmokhtar was undoubtedly instrumental in turning an ancient and revered African trade route into what is now known as the “Marlboro Connection”.
According to the ICIJ, Belmokhtar likely made money not from the direct sales of cigarettes, but from providing the protections needed to smuggle them across borders. Essentially, Melmokhtar was the covert strong arm of the illegal tobacco trade - unconsciously working in tandem with some of America’s largest tobacco brands.
On 14 June, the Pentagon claimed to have killed him in an airstrike just outside of Benghazi while he was reportedly meeting fighters from an al-Qaeda linked group.
However, Mokhtar Belmokhtar's death has been reported many times in the past, and at the time of this writing, Belmokhtar’s official death has not yet been recorded on Wikipedia.
Whether his death is genuine or not, it is important to bring Belmokhtar into the international spotlight and shine light on the gruesome crimes he committed as supported by the illegal cigarette trade in Africa. We must note that Belmokhtar is likely not alone. There are undoubtedly many others like him who will continue to rise and fall - large, clunky cogs in the vast machine we know as the global tobacco industry.