France confirms “with certainty” that the al-Qaeda-linked North African warlord Abou Zeid was killed in combat with French troops in Mali in February.
The death of Abou Zeid, accused of earning al-Qaeda millions of dollars through the kidnappings of dozens of western hostages, marks a serious blow to al-Qaeda in the region and to Islamist rebels driven out of northern Mali’s towns by the French-led campaign.
France had been awaiting results of DNA testing before making an official announcement, a diplomatic source told Reuters.
Ending weeks of specuatlion, the office of French President Francois Hollande said: “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 palace said that Abou Zeid’s death “marks an important step in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel.”
Chad’s president had said earlier this month that Chadian troops had killed Abou Zeid while fighting to dislodge an al-Qaida affiliate in northern Mali.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, thought to be 47, was a pillar of the southern realm of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, responsible for the death of at least two European hostages and a leader of the extremist takeover of northern Mali.
He was killed in operations in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains in northern Mali in late February, the statement from Hollande’s office said.
The French military moved into Mali on January 11 to push back militants linked to Abou Zeid and other extremist groups who had imposed harsh Islamic rule and who are seen as an international terrorist threat.
Abou Zeid led one of the most violent brigades of al-Qaida’s North African franchise. He was believed to be holding four French nationals kidnapped two years ago at a uranium mine in Niger. The fate of those hostages, working for French company Areva, was unclear.
Abou Zeid held a Frenchman released in February 2010, and another who was executed that July. He had also been linked to the execution of a British hostage in 2009.