Leader of al-Qaeda north Africa wing killed
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was one of the most feared in region
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of the most feared commanders of al Qaeda's north Africa wing, known as AQIM, has been killed in an operation against Islamist fighters in mountainous northern Mali.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was among 40 militants killed this week in the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border.
Zeid, known for his ruthlessness was an Algerian former smuggler turned jihadist. He's believed to be behind the kidnapping of more than 20 Westerners in the lawless Sahara over the last five years, earning AQIM tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments. He's also believed to have executed British national Edwin Dyer in 2009 and 78-year-old Frenchman, Michel Germaneau, in 2010.
When northern Mali was seized by militants in April of last year, Abou Zeid took control of the ancient desert trading town of Timbuktu, employing a violently extreme form of sharia, including amputations and the destruction of ancient Sufi shrines.
Those who dealt directly with Abou Zeid during the Islamist occupation, describe him a short man with a grey beard and a quiet, severe manner who was never seen without an AK47 rifle.
Locals said that when he fled Timbuktu, before the town fell to the French-led military advance, he took with him several blindfolded Western hostages in his convoy.
According to Algeria's Ennahar television, which is well connected with Algeria's security services, reported that French and Chadian troops have been hunting fighters there after a lightning campaign to dislodge them from northern Mali.
Algeria's government, Malian and Chadian officials could not confirm Abou Zeid's killing.
A French army official, who otherwise declined comment, confirmed that about 40 Islamists had been killed in heavy fighting over the last week in the mountainous Tigargara region.
According to the official, 1,200 French troops, 800 Chadian soldiers and some elements of the Malian army were still in combat to the south of Tessalit in the Adrar mountain range. In addition, ten logistics sites and an explosives factory had been destroyed in the operation as well as 16 vehicles, she said.
France launched the assault on January 11 to retake Mali's vast desert north from AQIM and other Islamist rebels. France had responded to a plea from Mali's government to halt the militants' drive southward.
The intervention swiftly dislodged rebels from northern Mali's main towns and drove them back into the surrounding desert and mountains.
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