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
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
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.