This image released on Dec. 25, 2012 by Sahara Media shows Abdel Mejid Abou Zeid, a top al Qaeda leader who served as the deputy to Yahya Abu Hammam, the head of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s operations in the Sahel region of North Africa.
French President François Hollande issued a statement confirming the death of Abdel Mejid Abou Zeid, a top al Qaeda commander who served as the deputy to Yahya Abu Hammam, the head of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s operations in the Sahel region of North Africa.
Abou Zeid was killed “during combat led by the French military in the Ifoghas Mountains in northern Mali at the end of February,” Hollande said in a statement today, according to France24. Hollande described Abou Zeid’s death as “a milestone in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel.”
Terrorists from AQIM, Ansar Dine, and the Movement for the Oneness and Jihad in West Africa fled to the Ifoghas Mountains after being pushed out of the towns in northern Mali by French troops in an operation that began in January. French and Chadian forces have pursued the al Qaeda-linked groups in the Ifoghas Mountains; Chadian forces have suffered significant casualties during heavy fighting. France was forced to intervene in Mali after the jihadist alliance launched an offensive into central Mali and advanced on the capital, Bamako, in the south.
It is unclear how France confirmed Abou Zeid’s death. It was reported that a DNA test was being run to identify whether the corpse thought to have been Abou Zeid’s was indeed his. AQIM has not released a statement to confirm or deny Abou Zeid’s death.
Before his death, Abou Zeid commanded the Taregh Ibn Ziyad brigade, an AQIM military unit which operates throughout Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and southern Algeria. He was the top deputy of Yahya Abu Hammam, a wanted AQIM commander. Zeid’s brigade is responsible for the beheading of the British hostage Edwin Dyer in May 2009. Algerians, Mauritanians, Malians, and Moroccans are known to fight with both Hammam and Zeid.
The status of Mokhtar Belmokhtar is still unclear. Chad’s president claimed that Belmokhtar was killed in late February, but he may have been confused with Abou Zeid. Belmokhtar is the commander of the al-Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or Those who sign with Blood Brigade, which led the bloody terrorist assault against the In Amenas gas facility in southeastern Algeria in mid-January. Belmokhtar split with AQIM in December, but, according to his spokesman, still maintains communications with Ayman al Zawahiri and fights alongside AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine.
For more more information, see Long War Journal and Threat Matrix reports:
Conflicting accounts emerge over AQIM leader’s reported death
Confusion reigns in confirming deaths of senior AQIM leaders in Mali
Chadian forces claim raid killed top Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar
Belmokhtar claims Algerian raid, slaying of hostages for al Qaeda
US adds senior AQIM commander to terrorist list
Analysis: Al Qaeda central tightened control over hostage operations