An Algerian court tried him in absentia in January 2012, convicting him of belonging to an international terrorist group and sentencing him to life in prison.
Abou Zeid was an arch rival of Moktar Belmoktar, known as ‘‘the one-eyed sheik’’ after he lost an eye in combat in Afghanistan. Belmoktar’s profile soared after a mid-January attack on a huge Algerian gas plant and a mass hostage-taking which left 37 hostages and 29 attackers dead.
The two of them spent years building up the AQIM presence in Mali, but it was Abou Zeid who was considered the crueler of the two. 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.
Pounding by French forces in January quickly pushed Islamists out of major cities, including Timbuktu, and to the rocky desert in the northeast.
Charlton reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.