Algeria targets Salafist smugglers in southern Sahara

Sunday, October 5, 2003

CAIRO Algeria has widened its war against the leading Islamic insurgency group in the North African country.

On Sept. 21, Algerian Mi-24 attack helicopters fired anti-tank missiles toward a suspected smuggler convoy near the Algerian-Mali border. The convoy was said to have contained Salafist and smugglers. There were no reports of casualties.

The sources said this was the first attack on smugglers who operate in the southern Sahara. They said the Salafists have cooperated with the smugglers in obtaining weapons, financing and in insurgency operations.

The sources said 40 Salafist agents were involved in the six-month hostage ordeal. The Salafists were said to have escaped to Mali and collected a ransom of more than 5 million euros, Middle East Newsline reported.

The smugglers were said to have helped bring 31 Western European hostages from Algeria to Mali in August. The Salafist group, headed by Hassan Khatab, kidnapped 32 Austrian, Dutch, German, Swedish and Swiss hostages in February and one of them died in captivity.

Algerian security sources said the military has launched operations against smugglers who operate in the southern Sahara Desert. The sources said the operations were part of the campaign against the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call.

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