The al-Qaeda-linked North African militant Abou Zeid has been killed in combat with French troops in Mali.

The office of French President Francois Hollande said the death was "definitively confirmed" and that Mr Zeid's death "marks an important step in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel".

Chad's president had said earlier this month that Chadian troops had killed Mr Zeid while fighting to dislodge an al-Qaeda affiliate in northern Mali.

French officials have maintained for weeks that Mr Zeid was "probably" dead, but waited to conduct DNA tests to verify.

Mr Zeid, who was thought to be 47, was believed to be a leader of the extremist takeover of northern Mali and responsible for the death of at least two European hostages.

He was killed in operations in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains in northern Mali in late February, Mr Hollande's office said.

The French military moved into Mali on 11 January to push back militants linked to Mr Zeid and other extremist groups who had imposed harsh Islamic rule and who are seen as an international terrorist threat.