France has confirmed today that Islamist commander Abdelhamid Abou Zeid has been killed in fighting in Mali.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was a senior figure in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Earlier, the French newspaper Le Monde said DNA samples had made it possible to formally identify Abdelhamid Abou Zeid.
The Chadian army fighting alongside French forces claimed earlier this month it had killed Abou Zeid and fellow militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar in fighting in February.
“The president of the French Republic confirms with certainty the death of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid after an offensive by the French army in the Adrar des Ifoghas (mountains) in the North of Mali, at the end of February,” the Elysee presidential palace said.
The statement said the death of “one of the main leaders of AQIM marks an important stage in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel (region)”.
The fate of Mokhtar Belmokhtar has yet to be confirmed.
France has confirmed today that Islamist commander Abdelhamid Abou Zeid has been killed in fighting in Mali
Islamist rebels seized the vast north of Mali a year ago after a military coup in the capital Bamako. They imposed strict Sharia law on the people they controlled.
France intervened militarily in January amid fears that the militants were preparing to advance on Bamako.
France currently has about 4,000 troops in Mali.
Mali’s army and troops from several African countries, including 2,000 from Chad, have also been involved in the fighting.
Since the intervention began, major cities including Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu have been recaptured but fighting is still continuing in desert mountains.
France plans to withdraw its troops from Mali next month, with West African countries expected to take over in the run-up to elections due in July.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was believed to be behind several kidnappings of Westerners.
On Wednesday, AQIM said it had killed French hostage Philippe Verdon who was taken prisoner in Mali in 2011.
It said his death – which France has not yet confirmed – was in retaliation for France’s intervention in Mali.
As well as Philippe Verdon, a total of 14 French nationals are still being held by Islamist groups in Africa.
Senior al-Qaeda militant Abdelhamid Abou Zeid has been killed in northern Mali, Chadian President Idriss Deby has announced.
Idriss Deby said Chadian forces killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid during clashes in the remote region.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid is said to be second-in-command of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is fighting foreign forces in Mali.
The Algerian national is accused of killing two Western hostages – Briton Edwin Dyer in 2009 and Frenchman Michel Germaneau the following year.
His death will immediately raise questions over the state of several French hostages who are widely believed to have been in Abdelhamid Abou Zeid’s custody.
In January France sent some 3,500 troops to northern Mali to oust various Islamist militant groups who had seized a vast area of the Sahara desert.
Chad is one of several African countries to have supported the French operation.
After recapturing the region’s main towns, French and Chadian troops have been battling Islamist fighters in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains north of Kidal, where the militants had regrouped, in recent weeks.
Senior al-Qaeda militant Abdelhamid Abou Zeid has been killed in northern Mali, Chadian President Idriss Deby has announced
Algeria’s Ennahar TV reported earlier this week that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was among 40 militants killed in the area near the Algerian border.
“Chadian forces killed two jihadi leaders, including Abou Zeid,” Idriss Deby said on Friday, without giving any further details.
President Idriss Deby was speaking after the funerals of Chadian soldiers killed in the fighting.
Algerian media have reported that security operatives have taken DNA samples from two of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid’s relatives to compare with the body which is reportedly his.
A US official – speaking on condition of anonymity – said Washington found reports that Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was killed “very credible”, according to the AFP news agency.
However, France reacted with caution to the reports, with government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem stressing that his death was so far unconfirmed.
Earlier unverified reports in the French media said that the militant was killed during fighting against French army units.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid – believed to be in his 40s – was known as the most violent al-Qaeda commander in the region.
He was last seen in public in the Malian cities of Timbuktu and Gao seized by Islamist groups last year.