Al-Qaeda's top commander in Mali has been killed, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno said on Saturday, in what would be one of the most significant blows to the rebels in the seven-week French-led intervention against Islamist insurgents.
Several newspapers in Abou Zeid's native Algeria had reported his death and Washington had described the reports as "very credible".
Deby said Abou Zeid, the Mali-based operative in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was killed in deadly fighting between Chadian troops and Islamist fighters on February 22.
"Our soldiers killed two jihadist chiefs including Abou Zeid," said Deby, whose elite forces have played a key role in the offensive to liberate northern Mali.
The killing of Abou Zeid, a ruthless militant linked with ki dnappings and executions of Westerners, would be a major success for French forces, who intervened in Mali in mid-January to help oust Islamist rebels then in control of the north.
Algeria's El Khabar newspaper reported today that authorities there had carried out DNA tests to try to confirm Abou Zeid's death.
"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", it said.
Abou Zeid, 46, whose real name is Mohamed Ghedir, was an Algerian born near the border with Libya. He was a former smuggler who embraced radical Islam in the 1990s and became one of AQIM's key leaders.
He was thought to have about 200 seasoned fighters under his command who were well-equipped and highly mobile.