In brief: France confirms death of al-Qaida-linked warlord
Paris – The al-Qaida-linked warlord Abou Zeid was killed in combat with French-led troops in Mali in February, France said Saturday, ending weeks of uncertainty about whether one of the group’s leading commanders in the region was dead.
In a statement Saturday the office of French President Francois Hollande said the death was “definitively confirmed” and that the killing “marks an important step in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel.”
Chad’s president had said earlier this month that Chadian troops killed Abou Zeid while fighting to dislodge his al-Qaida affiliate in northern Mali. French officials have maintained for weeks that the Algerian was “probably” dead but waited to conduct DNA tests to verify.
Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, thought to be 47, 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 and a leader of the extremist takeover of the north.
U.S. and Afghanistan reach agreement on important prison
Washington – The U.S. has reached an agreement with the Afghanistan government to transfer the Parwan Detention Facility to Afghan control, the Pentagon said Saturday, two weeks after negotiations broke down over whether the U.S. would have the power to block the release of some detainees.
According to a senior U.S. official, a key element to the agreement is that the Afghans can invoke a procedure that ensures prisoners considered dangerous would not be released from the detention center. The agreement also includes a provision that allows the two sides to work together to resolve any differences.
Transfer of the Parwan detention center on Monday is critical to the ongoing effort to gradually shift control of the country’s security to the Afghans as the U.S. and allies move toward the full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014.
Afghans demanded control of the center, but U.S. officials have worried that the most threatening detainees would be freed once the U.S. transferred control. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday as officials finalized the agreement after days of intense negotiations.
Syrian forces earn key victory along Israel-Syria border
Beirut – Syrian regime forces routed rebels in fighting on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights last week, leaving at least 35 dead, activists said Saturday, as the country’s civil war reached the doorstep of the strategic plateau.
The rebel effort to overrun the Quneitra region along the cease-fire line separating Syria and Israel has heightened worries that Islamic extremists among those fighting President Bashar Assad could take over the front line with Israeli troops and gain a potential staging ground for attacks on the Jewish state.