Al-Qaida in Northern Mali
Chadian soldiers hold up their weapons as they cheer next to tanks and army vehicles ahead of their deployment in Mali, at the town of Gorou, in Niger (Reuters)

Top al-Qaida militant Abou Zeid, known for his brutality in the region, has been killed by Chadian forces during the ongoing conflict in Northern Mali, said Chadian President Idriss Deby.

The notorious leader was killed during clashes between Islamist rebels and African forces in a remote region, said Deby.

Zeid was believed to be the second-in-command of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He was allegedly involved in the killing of British tourist Edwin Dyer in 2009 followed by the execution of a French worker in 2010.

"It was Chadian forces who killed two jihadi leaders, including Abou Zeid," said Deby soon after a funeral ceremony for Chadian troops who lost their lives during the ongoing battle.

"On February 22, we lost several soldiers in the Ifogha Mountains after destroying the jihadists' base. This was the first time there was a direct confrontation with the jihadist," added Deby.

A US diplomat in Washington told AFP that the reports of the killing are "very credible" adding that Zeid's death "would be a significant blow to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb."

Zeid was killed on 26 February, said the Chadian president. The news was first reported by Algeria's Ennahar TV earlier this week. According to the report, the top militant along with 40 others were killed near the Algerian border. However, the operation was led by French forces, said the report.

Several Algerian dailies also reported the 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," said a report in El Khabar.

However, France has been cautious as President Francois Hollande said: "Reports are circulating, it is not up to me to confirm them."

If Zeid's death is confirmed, it would be considered a significant victory for the French-led intervention in the landlocked West African nation.

French forces intervened in its former colony following advancements by the Islamist rebels in the region who threatened to capture the southern part of the country.

French forces were supported by UN-backed African troops with Chadian forces playing a vital role.