Wily one-eyed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whose jihadists have claimed an assault on a luxury Mali hotel, shot to global notoriety with a spectacular assault on an Algerian gas field two years ago, but had long been known as "The Uncatchable".
US bombers as recently as June were sent out to target the elusive 43-year-old Algerian born and bred in the country's desert hinterland, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last weekend.
Washington has pledged a reward of $5m on his head, and of all the jihadist leaders in the Sahel region straddling the southern Sahara, it is Belmokhtar's photo that features on the wall of the French army commander's office at Gao in northern Mali.
"It reminds me that he exists and wants to do me harm," Colonel Luc Laine told AFP.
Behind the 2013 attack on the In Amenas natural gas complex in the remote south of his homeland, in which 39 hostages and 29 Islamists were killed, "Mokhtar Belmokhtar is the backbone of all jihadists," a source in Mali's intelligence services told AFP on Monday.
In May, he reaffirmed that his group, Al-Murabitoun, remained loyal to Al-Qaeda, denying allegiance paid to the Islamic State by another of the movement's leaders.
He was born in 1972 in the ancient desert city of Ghardaia, 600km south of the Algerian capital, noted for its dates and rugs and fabrics.