Chadian President Idriss Deby announced Friday that Chadian troops fighting to dislodge an Al-Qaida affiliate in northern Mali killed one of the group’s leading commanders, Abou Zeid.

The death of the Algerian warlord, a feared radical leader of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb who was behind the kidnapping of several Westerners, could not immediately be verified. His death would be a big blow to his group and its growing influence in North and West Africa.

Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, who led one of the most violent brigades of Al-Qaida’s North African franchise and helped lead the extremist takeover of northern Mali, was thought to be 47 years old.

He was a pillar of the southern realm of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, responsible for the death of at least two European hostages. He was believed to be holding four French nationals kidnapped two years ago at a uranium mine in Niger. The fate of those hostages, working for French company Areva, was unclear Friday night.

The French military moved into Mali on January 11 to push back militants linked to Abou Zeid and other extremist groups who had imposed harsh Islamic rule in the vast country and who were seen as an international terrorist threat. The extremists took control over northern Mali in a power vacuum after a coup last year, and had started moving toward the capital. After the militants took over Mali’s north, Abou Zeid took control of the fabled city of Timbuktu, meting out justice according to his extremist view of Islamic law.

For the past 10 days, French military, along with Chadian forces, have been locked in a weeklong battle against extremists in the mountains of northern Mali that has left scores dead.