CAIRO Ñ Algeria's military is closing in on and attempting to capture
leaders of a major Islamic insurgency group attending a conference.
Arab diplomatic sources said the more than 5,000 troops, supported by
helicopters and artillery, have surrounded an area in the hills of the
Baghata governorate about 300 kilometers east of Algiers. The sources said
the area is believed to have been used for a conference by the leadership of
the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call.
More than 100 Salafist members, most of them commanders, are believed to
be attending the conference and have become the target of the military
operation. The sources said the operation focuses near the town of Kasila in
the Kabilye region near the Moroccan border, Middle East Newsline reported.
The group has been responsible for
the most lethal attacks against the military over the last two months.
This is the second time in less than a year that Algeria's military
launched an offensive in an effort to capture the Salafist leadership. A
similar attack took place in the summer in the mountainous region east of
Algiers in a failed attempt to capture Salafist leader Hassan Khatib.
Last month, Salafist insurgents ambushed an elite Algerian commando
unit. More than 40 soldiers were killed in the attack said to have been
planned by Al Qaida. The Salafists are regarded as the biggest allies of Al
The London-based Al Hayat daily said Algeria's military received
intelligence information of the Salafist conference. The newspaper said the
military has deployed 12 helicopters as well as 10 heavy artillery pieces
for the operation.
Estimates of Salafist strength varies.Western diplomatic sources said
the Salafist force has increased to 4,500 people. But Algerian military
commanders said the force numbers about 500.