- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2013

The al Qaeda commander known as the “Butcher of Timbuktu” has been killed by French forces in Mali, according to reports in the Algerian media.

Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a commander of the group’s north african affiliate al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), earned his moniker when he instituted a vicious form of Islamic Sharia law in Timbuktu after AQIM and other extremists threw government forces out of Mali’s vast desert north last year.

French troops, leading a U.N. authorized African multi-national stability force, are hunting extremists they forced out of northern Mali’s main cities in a rapid campaign over the past month and a half.

Algeria’s El Khabar newspaper reported on Friday that authorities there had carried out DNA tests to try to confirm Abou Zeid’s death in a clash with French forces earlier this week.

“The security services are comparing DNA taken from two close relatives of Abou Zeid with samples taken from the remains of a body supplied by French forces,” the paper said.

An Algerian born near the border with Libya, the 46 year-old Abou Zeid is a former smuggler who embraced radical Islam in the 1990s and became one of AQIM’s key leaders.

He is believed behind a series of kidnappings, including of British national Edwin Dyer, who was abducted in Niger and executed in 2009, andof 78-year-old French aid worker Michel Germaneau, killed in 2010.

Abou Zeid’s brigade, known as “El Fatihine” is also thought to be holding a number of Western hostages, including four French citizens kidnapped in Niger in 2010.

Abou Zeid, whose real name is Mohamed Ghdiri, is thought to have about 200 seasoned fighters under his command.