ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algerian army helicopters killed a high-level al-Qaida operative and four associates as they sped through the southern Algerian desert, a local official said Thursday.
Two four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying Khalil Ould Addah, also known as Abu Bassen, were hit as they traveled through the desert province of Tamanrasset north of the town of Ain Salah, said the official from Tamanrasset, the regional capital. He spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The Arabic language daily al-Khabar said the attack happened Wednesday, adding that the militants had come from northern Mali and were heading to a meeting of top al-Qaida in North Africa leaders.
There was some debate about Ould Addah's exact position in al-Qaida. The paper described Ould Addah, a Mauritanian, as the "No. 3" in the organization, but others familiar with the group say he was probably a regional leader.
Al-Qaida's branch in the Sahara is led by Yahya Abou el-Hammam, an Algerian, and Ould Addah was likely one of his trusted commanders, according to Jean-Paul Rouillon, an expert on the group.