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“The President of the Republic confirms the death of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid with certainty during the fighting led by the French army in the Ifoghas mountains in Northern Mali in late February,” President Francois Hollande’s office said.
The announcement ends weeks of speculation since Chad’s president had said earlier this month that Chadian troops killed Abou Zeid while fighting to dislodge his Al-Qaeda affiliate in northern Mali. French officials have maintained for weeks that the Algerian was “probably” dead but waited to conduct DNA tests to verify.
“The elimination of one of the main leaders of AQIM marks an important milestone in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel,” the statement added.
Abou Zeid led one of the most violent brigades of AQIM. He was believed to be holding and killing European hostages in the Sahel region.
Mali descended into chaos in the wake of a March 2012 coup, as al-Qaeda-linked rebels capitalized on the power vacuum to seize vast desert territory in the north.
On the request of Malian authorities, the French army has since January 11 been engaged in a military operation in support of the Malian army against armed Islamist groups, including AQIM, which occupied northern Mali since last year.
France has more than 4,000 troops on the ground in Mali, 1,200 of whom are currently deployed in the northeast, cleaning up the rest after driving out most of the Islamist rebels from the area.
Xinhua and Agencies