Purported photo of dead Abou Zeid ‘could be of any jihadist’
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The photo of the body of an Islamist rebel in north Mali is no proof that al Qaeda leaders Abou Zeid and Mokhtar Belmokhtar are dead, according to the head of Sahara Media, a Mauritanian news agency reputed for its access to jihadist leaders.
The director of a Mauritanian news agency reputed for its access to senior al Qaeda members in North Africa told FRANCE 24 that the photograph of a dead rebel fighter in north Mali was no evidence that either Abu Zeid or Mokhtar Belmokhtar were killed.
Abdallah Mohamedi, head of Sahara Media, insisted that the blood-covered face of the corpse didn’t match those of the two jihadist leaders.
French media were abuzz on Tuesday with the photo of an Islamist rebel killed in the remote Ametetai Valley of northern Mali, where French and Chadian troops are fighting insurgents linked to the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
The website of Paris Match magazine claimed the photoed body was AQIM leader Abou Zeid, while French radio RFI cited a Chadian source describing the same image as another senior jihadist figure, Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
“This could be the body of any jihadist”
Abdallah Mohamedi told FRANCE24 that AQIM would never abandon the bodies of its senior leaders on the battlefield.
“They always take them away to avoid photographs," Mohamedi said.
"Moreover, a jihadist leader always wears an explosive belt to make sure he’s not going to be taken alive by the enemy. On this picture, we can’t distinguish the explosive belt.”
Abdallad Mohamedi added that the dead rebel didn’t look like Mokhtar Belmokhtar.
“The colour of the beard is not right. We can’t identify the body from the way the beard is trimmed because a lot of jihadists trim their beard in the same pointy way. This could be the body of any jihadist.”
A member of al Qaeda quoted by Sahara Media confirmed on Monday the death of Abou Zeid but denied claims that Belmokhtar had been killed by Chadian forces.
“One of our correspondents contacted a senior jihadist, a man in charge of Mokhtar Belmokhtar’s relations with the media. He refused to give his name and confirmed that Abu Zeid was indeed killed. But he said that Belmokhtar was alive and that he would soon issue a public declaration,” said Mohamedi.