Leader of al-Qaida N. African branch dies in car accident on Sunday

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- A spokesman for a radical Islamic group in northern Mali has confirmed that a leader of al-Qaida's North African branch was killed in a car crash.

A spokesman for Ansar Dine, which seized control of cities in northern Mali in April, says that Nabil Makhloufi was killed in the accident near the city of Gao on Sunday.

Makhloufi, an Algerian national who is a longtime member of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, was appointed "emir of the Sahara" last year, controlling operations in the southern half of AQIM's territory, including in Mali.

Makhloufi was close to Abou Zeid, the feared leader of one of AQIM's most violent brigades. Zeid is responsible for the death of at least two European hostages, and is believed to be holding four French nationals kidnapped two years ago in Niger.

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