French forces in Mali have killed Abdelhamid Abu Zeid, a leading field commander of al-Qaeda’s north Africa wing AQIM, Algerian Ennahar television reported.
The station yesterday said 40 militants including Abu Zeid were killed in the region of Tigargara in northern Mali three days ago.
A French defence ministry official declined to comment. Algeria did not confirm the killing.
France launched an assault to retake Mali’s vast northern desert region from AQIM and other Islamist rebels on 11 January after a plea from Mali’s caretaker government. The military intervention dislodged the rebels from several main towns they had occupied and drove them back into the desert.
AQIM, which stands for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, has earned tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments for Western hostages taken to its strongholds in northern Mali.
Abu Zeid has been regarded as one of AQIM’s most ruthless operators. He is believed to have executed British national Edwin Dyer in 2009 and Frenchman, Michel Germaneau, in 2010.
Canadian diplomat and kidnap victim Robert Fowler has told how Abu Zeid refused to give medication to two elderly female hostages.