Reports are starting to trickle in that, on February 25th, one of al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb’s top commanders was killed by French ground forces at the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas, a region in Mali’s extreme Northwest, where other top AQIM leadership and numerous French hostages are believed to be located.
Ennahar, an Algerian news organization with very close ties to Algeria’s security services, was the first to break the story on the death of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid. This makes sense, as the Adrar mountains share a border with both Mali and Algeria, and already numerous Algerian military and intelligence personnel are stationed on the border with Mali.
Abou Zeid himself was one of AQIMs top three commanders and the unofficial governor of Timbuktu before it’s liberation at the hands of French and Malian forces last month. Zeid was also known by experts as the organization’s most radical and violent leader opposed to the more “fight and plunder” mentality of the other remaining commanders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud. (Yes, you two are next, in case you were wondering.)
Little information is known about the actual military operation, but reports are coming in that French ground forces killed 40 militants including Abou Zeid in the mountainous Tigargara region. Reporting is scarce in Northern Mali, and, due to the isolation of the battlefields, information such as the death of a key leader would be slow moving. A U.S. official was quoted as saying the reported death of Zeid is very credible.