By Barbara Starr
The Obama administration is still searching through incoming intelligence reports to look for specific evidence to confirm that jihadist Moktar Belmoktar was killed in a raid by Chad military on a jihadist base in northeastern Mali, a senior U.S. official tells CNN.
"We don't have enough evidence to support the claim" made by Chad, the official said. But he emphasized the U.S. is taking it seriously and "not dismissing it out of hand."
"We want to have a level of certainty about it before we say it’s true, and we are not there yet," the official said.
He emphasized the U.S. will be looking at the broadest range of intelligence information it can to try to verify Belmoktar's death. "We'll be looking at things you can't even think of," he said.
On Saturday, officials with Chad's armed forces said its troops in Mali had killed Belmoktar.
Belmoktar led a group called Al-Mulathameen Brigade, which is associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. He had claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on an Algerian gas facility in January that, according to the country's Prime Minister Abdul Malek Sallal, killed more than three dozen hostages.
Due to the remoteness of the region, and the lack of U.S. personnel on the ground, the U.S. is looking at information from a variety of sources, including electronic intercepts such as cell phone conversations. Other information is coming from so-called “human sources,” people in the region who may have specific information, the official said. Over the last few months, the U.S. also has been relying on deepening cooperation with French intelligence, which maintains an extensive signals monitoring effort to intercept phone and internet traffic in the region. In past deaths of high profile terrorists, the U.S. has also monitored jihadi websites looking for postings that may be relevant.
One of the first tasks will be to determine if Belmoktar was at that Mali location at the time of the raid by Chad forces.
But as of Sunday, the information available to the U.S. includes both intelligence that supports the claim and that contradicts it. So, the U.S. is still looking for a "preponderance of evidence" one way or the other, he said.
The official declined to be named because of the sensitive nature of the information. He did not know if the U.S. military had flown any drones over the area to provide targeting information to Chad forces.