DNA testing has confirmed al Qaeda linked African warlord Abou Zeid was killed fighting against French troops in Mali. The announcement ends weeks of speculation about whether the group's most feared commanders was dead.
French President Francois Hollande's office confirmed Saturday the death of al Qaeda linked warlord Abou Zeid. One of the key leaders in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Zeid had been killed in combat with French troops, the Elysee palace said in a statement.
Hollande "confirms Abou Zeid's death with certainty during fighting led by the French army in the Ifoghas mountains in northern Mali in late February," the statement said.
"The elimination of one of the main leaders in AQIM marks an important stage in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel."
French authorities maintained for weeks that Zeid was possibly dead, but waited to confirm until DNA testing was able to verify the result.
Zeid, thought to be 46-years-old, was considered one of AQIM's most radical leaders and responsible for the deaths of at least two European hostages.
It is believed at the time of his death, he was holding four French nationals hostage who had been kidnapped more than two years ago at a uranium mine in Niger. The fate of the hostages, France said, remained unclear.
The warlord is also credited with having expanded al Qaeda's terror cell to Tunisia and Niger.
French military forces moved into Mali, its former colony, in January to help push back al Qaeda linked militants who had imposed harsh Islamic rule in the area and who were advancing on the capital, Bamako. The group were seen internationally as a terrorist threat.
Chad's President Idriss Deby Itno claimed earlier this month Chadian troops had been responsible for killing Zeid while fighting alongside French troops to secure the Ifoghas.
In January 2012, an Algerian court tried Zeid in absentia, convicting him of belonging to an international terrorist organization. He was sentenced to life in prison.
- AP, AFP, dpa