Conflicting accounts emerge over AQIM leader's reported death
This image released on Dec. 25, 2012 by Sahara Media shows Abdel Mejid Abou Zeid, a top al Qaeda leader who serves 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.
Conflicting reports have emerged over the recent claim by Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno that top al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) commander Abdel Mejid Abou Zeid was killed in fighting between Chadian troops and Islamist fighters in northern Mali.
Itno stated on March 1 that Abou Zeid and another "jihadist chief" had been killed in a fierce battle on Feb. 22 that also left 26 Chadian soldiers dead. On Feb. 28, Algeria's independent Ennahar TV was seemingly the first to announce that Abu Zeid had been killed in northern Mali along with 40 other Islamist fighters.
However, a separate, conflicting account emerged yesterday regarding the fate of Abou Zeid. AFP reports:
Adding to the confusion over the jihadist supremo's fate, Mauritania's private news agency Sahara Medias on Saturday confirmed that Abou Zeid had been killed but had a different story.
It said Abou Zeid was killed "four days ago" in a French air strike during a clash between a jihadist unit he was leading and the group of Chadian soldiers that had suffered the 26 losses days earlier.
Sahara Medias said the strike occurred in the mountainous region of Tigharghar near the border with Algeria and added without naming them that "extremely well informed sources" had confirmed Abou Zeid's death.
However the Islamist organization itself has not yet made any announcement and officials in his native Algeria were carrying out DNA tests in an effort to confirm the demise of one of Africa's most wanted men.
Interestingly, Algerian security officers have reportedly found a weapon belonging to Abou Zeid, but refused to declare the al Qaeda leader dead pending further analysis of DNA samples taken from the remains thought to be Zied's. The Daily Star reports:
"Algerian officers have examined a body said to be that of Abu Zeid in a military site in northern Mali and identified his personal weapon... but were unable to formally identify" the body as his, it said.
On Friday, El Khabar said Algerian security services were "comparing DNA taken from two close relatives of Abu Zeid with samples taken from the remains of a body supplied by French forces" battling Islamists in Mali.
The family of Abu Zeid, whose real name is Mohamed Ghedir, has meanwhile said "it has no official information concerning his fate," Echorouk newspaper said on Saturday.
Speculation over the fate of Zeid continues to swirl, but some Islamist supporters and US officials are now leaning toward the possibility that Zeid has indeed been killed.
A snippet from the Global Post:
"The death of Abou Zeid has been confirmed by several of his supporters who have come back from the mountains," said Ibrahim Oumar Toure, a mechanic in Kidal who worked with Islamist rebels, according to Reuters.
A US official, speaking anonymously, told AFP that Washington thought the reports of Abu Zeid's death were "very credible."
While the evidence mounts that Abou Zeid was killed in recent clashes in northern Mali, his death remains unconfirmed at the time of this posting. Completion of the DNA test by Algerian authorities and a likely statement from AQIM sometime this week will hopefully end the speculation about his fate.