Conflict & Justice

France: Al Qaeda chief Abou Zeid killed in Mali


French soldiers patrol at the site where a suicide bomber blew himself up on February 10, 2013 in northern Gao on the road to Gourem.



France has confirmed that Al Qaeda chief Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was killed amid fighting in northern Mali last month.

Abou Zeid's death had been widely reported, but the French government declined to confirm it until DNA tests could be performed.

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Abou Zeid, 46, was considered one of the most radical leaders of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), responsible for the deaths of at least two European hostages and a leader of the extremist takeover of the north.

"The elimination of one of the main leaders of AQIM marks an important stage in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel," French President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement Saturday.

The French army moved into Mali in January to push back militants linked to Abou Zeid and others.

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Abou Zeid was killed in operations in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains in late February, according to the statement from Hollande's office.

Although many believe Abou Zeid's death will weaken AQIM, one analyst warned it may actually strengthen the group's factions.

Northern Mali has been divided between units loyal to Abou Zeid and those loyal to his rival, Moktar Belmoktar, and may now come together following Abou Zeid's death, Jean-Paul Rouiller, director of the Geneva Center for Training and Analysis of Terrorism, told the Associated Press.