Al-Qaida commander killed in Mali: report
By Lamine Chikhi and John Irish ,ReutersALGIERS/DAKAR -- French forces have killed Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the most feared commanders of al-Qaida's North Africa wing, during an operation against Islamist fighters in mountainous northern Mali, Algeria's Ennahar television said on Thursday.
March 2, 2013, 12:02 am TWN
Abou Zeid was among 40 militants killed three days ago in the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border, said Ennahar, which is well connected with Algeria's security services.
French and Chadian troops have been hunting fighters there after a lightning campaign to dislodge them from northern Mali.
A spokesman for France's Elysee presidential palace declined to comment. Algeria's government, Malian and Chadian officials could not confirm Abou Zeid's killing.
A U.S. official said the reports that Abou Zeid had been killed appeared to be credible and that Washington would view his death as a serious blow to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
A French army official, who would not comment on Abou Zeid, confirmed that about 40 Islamists had been killed in heavy fighting over the last week in the mountainous Tigargara region.
The official said 1,200 French troops, 800 Chadian soldiers and some elements of the Malian army were still in combat to the south of Tessalit in the Adrar mountain range.
Ten logistics sites and an explosives factory had been destroyed in the operation as well as 16 vehicles, she said.
France launched the assault on Jan. 11 to retake Mali's vast desert north from AQIM and other Islamist rebels after a plea from Mali's government to halt the militants' drive southward.
The intervention swiftly dislodged rebels from northern Mali's main towns and drove them back into the surrounding desert and mountains, particularly the Adrar des Ifoghas.
Abou Zeid, regarded as one of AQIM's most ruthless operators, is an Algerian former smuggler turned jihadist who is believed to be behind the kidnapping of more than 20 Westerners in the lawless Sahara over the last five years, earning AQIM tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments.
He is believed to have executed British national Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman, Michel Germaneau, in 2010.