Printed on: March 24, 2013

France confirms death of al-Qaida chief


PARIS (AP) -- The al-Qaida-linked warlord Abou Zeid was killed in combat with French-led troops in Mali in February, France said Saturday, ending weeks of uncertainty about whether one of the group's leading commanders in the region was dead.

In a statement Saturday the office of French President Francois Hollande said the death was "definitively confirmed" and that the killing "marks an important step in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel."

Chad's president had said earlier this month that Chadian troops killed Abou Zeid while fighting to dislodge his al-Qaida affiliate in northern Mali. French officials have maintained for weeks that the Algerian was "probably" dead but waited to conduct DNA tests to verify.

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 the north.

The French military moved into Mali on Jan. 11 to push back militants linked to him and others who had imposed harsh Islamic rule and who are seen as an international terrorist threat.

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