GAO, Mali - Sources close to Islamist militants and tribal elders in north Mali said on Friday there was no doubt one of al-Qaida's most feared commanders in Africa had been killed by French air strikes, though there was still no official confirmation.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was among 40 militants killed four days ago in the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, where French forces have been locked in heavy fighting with Islamist rebels, the sources said.
About 1,200 French troops and 800 Chadian soldiers are hunting down al Qaeda-linked insurgents in the border region with Algeria after a seven-week French ground-and-air operation broke Islamist domination of northern Mali.
Algeria's Ennahar television, which is well connected with the country's security services, had reported Abou Zeid's death on Thursday, though French, Malian and Chadian officials did not confirm it.
Citing a French source, Algeria's state news agency APS also said on Friday Abou Zeid had been killed.
An Algerian former smuggler turned jihadist, Abou Zeid is regarded as one of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM's) most ruthless operators and a trusted lieutenant of its leader Abdelmalek Droukdel.