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France confirms death of Al Qaeda chief Abou Zeid

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The French President, François Hollande, has confirmed that Abou Zeid, one of the chiefs of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), died last month during a French military operation in Mali's north, three weeks after the report first surfaced.

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On Saturday, Hollade’s office released a statement stating the president “confirms in a certain manner the death of Abou Zeid, which happened during fighting conducted by the French Army in Adrar des Ifoghas in Mali’s north at the end of February.”

“The demise of one of the principal leaders of Aqim marks an important stage in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel,” the statement added.

Dossier: War in Mali

Hollande initially refused to confirm Zeid's death when the Chadian President, Idriss Déby, said on 1 March that the 46-year old died when Chadian and French forces fought with Islamist militias in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountain range in northern Mali.

"Reports are circulating, it is not up to me to confirm them," French President François Hollande said at the time, adding that a military operation was ongoing.

French authorities had said they were awaiting DNA results from two of Zeid’s close relatives.

Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, an Algerian, was considered one of the most radical chiefs of Aqim.

Mahamane Alidji Touré, a spokesman for the Crisis Committee in Timbuktu, installed at the beginning of France’s intervention in Mali to replace the fleeing Islamist administration, told RFI in late February about his first meeting with Abou Zeid.

“He is a very discreet man. When you see him, you can’t imagine him as a leader. Abou Zeid is puny: he is nothing extraordinary both in terms of the way he dresses and in other ways,” he recalled.

“He is a man of few words…he never raised his voice, and when you say something, he listens…he really gives the impression of a man who wants to settle.”

Who is Abou Zeid?

  • Mohamed Ghedir, known as Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, was born 46 years ago in Algeria, near the Libyan border.
  • He was a smuggler who took up radical Islam in the 1990s and became one of the key leaders of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), believed to be commanding 200 seasoned fighters,mainly Algerians, Mauritanians and Malians, who were well-equipped and highly mobile.
  • He is suspected of being behind a series of kidnappings and murders in several countries – among them UK national Edwin Dyer, abducted in Niger and killed in 2009, and 78-year-old French aid worker Michel Germaneau, killed in 2010.
  • He is believed to have been holding a number of Western hostages, including four French citizens kidnapped in Niger in 2010.
  • An Algiers court last year sentenced Abou Zeid in absentia to life in prison for having formed an international armed group involved in the kidnapping of foreigners.

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