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Al-Qa’ida commander Abou Zeid may be dead, says France


A senior Islamist leader has “probably” died in fighting in the mountains of northern Mali, the French military said today.

The head of the chiefs of staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, said that the death of Abou Zeid, military commander of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), was “probable” but it was not yet certain.

“It’s probable, but it’s only probable,” said Admiral Guillaud, speaking on Europe-1 radio. “We cannot be certain for the moment – it would be good news – because we haven’t recovered the body.”

Chad, whose soldiers are fighting alongside the French to destroy Islamist bastions in the Ifoghas mountains, has claimed the death of both Zeid and another Islamist chieftain, Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

Paris refused to comment on the second claim. A Mauritanian news agency with links to Aqim, Sahara Media, reported that Abou Zeid had been killed by a French aerial bombardment several days ago. But the agency quoted an Aqim source denying the death of Belmokhtar, whose breakaway group claimed responsibility for the mass hostage-taking at an Algerian oil field in January.

Chad claims DNA samples taken from the bodies of Zeid and Belmokhtar were sent to authorities in Algiers on Sunday, according to Western sources. Both men are Algerian nationals.