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Al-Qaeda's top leader in Mali killed in fighting

2 March AFP

Al-Qaeda's top commander in Mali has been killed, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno said, signalling a significant blow to the rebels in the seven-week French-led intervention against Islamist insurgents.

Several newspapers in Abou Zeid's native Algeria had reported his death and Washington had described the reports as "very credible".

Deby said Abou Zeid, the Mali-based operative of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was killed in fighting between Chadian troops and Islamist fighters on February 22.

"On February 22, we lost several soldiers in the Ifogha mountains after destroying the jihadists' base. This was the first time there was a direct confrontation with the jihadists," he said.

"Our soldiers killed two jihadist chiefs including Abou Zeid," said Deby, whose elite forces are among the best desert troops on the continent and have played a key role in the offensive to liberate northern Mali.

Algeria's independent Ennahar TV reported earlier this week that Abou Zeid was killed in northern Mali along with 40 other Islamist militants.

In Washington, a US official speaking on condition of anonymity said reports of his death seemed "very credible" and that if Abou Zeid was indeed slain "it would be a significant blow to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb".

French officials have so far reacted with caution, with President Francois Hollande saying : "Reports are circulating, it is not up to me to confirm them." The killing of Abou Zeid, a ruthless militant linked to kidnappings and executions of Westerners, would be a major success for French forces, who intervened in Mali in mid-January to help oust Islamist rebels then in control of the north.

 

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