"On 22 February we lost several soldiers in the Ifogha mountains after destroying the jihadists' base,” Déby said on Friday. “This was the first time there was a direct
confrontation with the jihadists.
"Our soldiers killed two jihadist chiefs including Abou Zeid."
Chad’s elite troops were fighting alongside French soldiers in the mountains near the Algerian border to which the Islamist militias, who controlled northern Mali for months, are said to have retreated.
A US intelligence source told the AFP news agency that the claim was “very credible” and the El Khabar newspaper in Abou Zeid’s native Algeria reported Friday that DNA from two of his close relatives had been used to carry out tests on the corpse brought to Algiers from Mali during the week.
But France has so far been more cautious.
"Reports are circulating, it is not up to me to confirm them," French President François Hollande said on Friday.
Who is Abou Zeid?
- Mohamed Ghedir, known as Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, was born 46 years ago in Algeria, near the Libyan border.
- He was a smuggler who took up radical Islam in the 1990s and became one of the key leaders of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), believed to be commanding 200 seasoned fighters,mainly Algerians, Mauritanians and Malians, who were well-equipped and highly mobile.
- He is suspected of being behind a series of kidnappings and murders in several countries – among them UK national Edwin Dyer, abducted in Niger and killed in 2009, and 78-year-old French aid worker Michel Germaneau, killed in 2010.
- He is believed to have been holding a number of Western hostages, including four French citizens kidnapped in Niger in 2010.
- An Algiers court last year sentenced Abou Zeid in absentia to life in prison for having formed an international armed group involved in the kidnapping of foreigners.