Both men joined the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, and later its offshoot, the GSPC, a group that carried out suicide bombings on Algerian government targets.
Around 2003, both men crossed into Mali, where they began a lucrative kidnapping business, snatching European tourists, aid workers, government employees and even diplomats and holding them for multimillion-dollar ransoms.
The Algerian terror cell amassed a significant war chest, and joined the al-Qaida fold in 2006, renaming itself al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Belmoktar claims he trained in Afghanistan in the 1990s, including in one of Osama Bin Laden's camps. It was there that he reportedly lost an eye, earning him the nickname "Laaouar," Arabic for "one-eyed."
Until last December, Belmoktar and Abou Zeid headed separate brigades under the flag of al-Qaida's chapter in the Sahara. But after months of reports of infighting between the two, Belmoktar peeled off, announcing the creation of his own terror unit, still loyal to the al-Qaida ideology but separate from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
It was this group that launched the fatal attack on a BP-operated natural gas plant in southeastern Algeria in retaliation for the French-led military intervention in Mali.
In the attack and in the subsequent rescue attempt, 37 people, all but one of them foreigners, were killed inside the complex. Belmoktar claimed responsibility for the attack within hours, immediately catapulting him into the ranks of international terrorists.
In addition to the alleged killing of Belmoktar, Ngobongue said that Chad's military had also nabbed 60 of the jihadists' cars, electronic equipment and weapons. "The raid is still ongoing," he said.
Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal. Baba Ahmed contributed from Bamako, Mali.
Rukmini Callimachi can be reached at www.twitter.com/rcallimachi
Baba Ahmed can be reached at www.twitter.com/babahmed1