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Al-Qaida group says leader still alive

April 6, 2013 at 5:09 PM

BAMAKO, Mali, April 6 (UPI) -- A French claim that a top leader of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has been killed in Mali is a "blatant error," the group said Saturday.

The organization accused French President Francois Hollande of deliberately exaggerating the success of its operations in Mali, Radio France Internationale reported.

Chadian President Idriss Deby announced the death of Abou Zeid March 1. French officials said March 23 that they had confirmed that he had been killed.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited Bamako Friday. He said France plans to station a force of 1,000 in Mali after it pulls most of its troops out of the country.

French and Chadian troops have been fighting a coalition of militants and rebels in northern Mali since January.

The militants had seized control of major cities and imposed strict Islamic law following a coup in March 2012. Since the intervention began, the territory has been recaptured but fighting still occurs in the mountains.

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