Abou Zeid, a top commander of al Qaeda in North Africa known for his brutality and violence, was killed by Chadian forces operating in northern Mali earlier this week, Chad’s President Idriss Deby said Friday
One of the most dreaded leaders of al Qaeda’s North African branch, Algerian national Abou Zeid was reportedly killed by Chadian troops in Mali on February 26, 2013, Chad’s president said Friday.
“It was Chadian forces who killed two jihadi leaders, including Abou Zeid,” President Idress Deby told opposition politicians in the presence of journalists after a funeral ceremony for Chadian soldiers killed in the fighting.
The news of his death was originally reported on Algerian TV station Ennahar and attributed to French troops.
Officials in Mali and in France, which is leading an international military intervention in Mali against Islamic extremists, could not confirm the death.
Known to be brutal and fanatical, Abou Zeid – real name Mohamed Ghdiri – heads the “Tareq Ibn Ziayd” or “El Fatihine” katiba, one of the most radical branches of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), responsible for the execution of British tourist Edwin Dyer in 2009 and French aid worker Michel Germaneau the next year.
His group is believed to be behind the 2010 abduction of five French nuclear and construction workers in northern Niger.
In an interview with the French weekly magazine Jeune Afrique, Pierre Camatte, a former hostage,described Abou Zeid as a “tiny, rickety man in his ‘50s with a goatee.” Camatte was released in February 2010 after three months of detention. But Abou Zeid’s other captives have not been as lucky.
Born in the Algerian town of Touggourt, located about 600 km south of Algiers in the Algerian Sahara, he was a member of FIS, the Algerian Islamic party that was denied an election victory in the early 1990s, triggering the brutal Algerian civil war.
He later joined the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (known by its French acronym GSPC), where he served under Mokhtar Belmokthar, another AQIM leader, before rising up the insurgent ranks.
Experts say that Abou Zeid was not very well-educated and did not speak the erudite Arabic of many respected al Qaeda figures. But what made him more dangerous, according to French counterterror experts, was his ambition and his need to distinguish himself from al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.
A central commander in the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012, Abou Zeid took formal control of Timbuktu, where he put in place a brutal form of Islamic sharia law including amputations and the destruction of historic mausoleums.
Residents of the city who came into contact with him described Abou Zeid as a small man with a grey beard always armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.