PARIS – France confirmed Saturday that one of the key leaders of al-Qaida in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abou Zeid, had been killed in fighting with French-led forces in northern Mali in February.
Considered one of the most radical leaders in al-Qaida’s north African branch, the 46-year-old is credited with having significantly expanded the terrorist group’s field of operation to Tunisia and Niger, and for kidnapping activities across the region.
Abou Zeid’s death was announced March 1 by Chad, whose army is fighting alongside French troops. Two days later, Chad also announced it had killed Algerian Islamist militant Moktar Belmoktar, the other leader of AQIM. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius later said DNA tests would be carried out to determine whether the two had in fact been killed; France has not yet confirmed Belmoktar’s death. Belmoktar, who split from al-Qaida, masterminded a January raid on an Algerian gas plant that left 38 hostages dead, including 10 Japanese.