LONDON ø The new leader of Algeria's leading Islamic insurgency
group has been captured.
Western diplomatic sources said the capture of Amir Saifi marked the
most significant development in more than a year in the war against Al Qaida
and its aligned groups. The sources said the Algerian insurgent headed a
group regarded as the main subcontractor of Al Qaida and could be linked to
the train bombings in Spain in March 2004 in which about 200 people were
Saifi, leader of the Salafist Group for Combat and Call, was captured in
Chad, the sources said. Saifi succeeded Hassan Khatab in August 2003 in what
was said to have been a coup within the Salafist organization, Middle East Newsline reported. Islamic
sources said Khatab was later ordered executed by Saifi.
A statement by the German federal prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe said
Saifi was arrested along with an unidentified person. Saifi, known as Abdul
Razik the paratrooper, was cited as the planner of a Salafist operation in
which 32 European nationals were abducted in the southern Sahara Desert in
Algeria in February 2003. One of those kidnapped died and the rest were
released for a ransom of about $8 million in August 2003.
The sources said Saifi, 38, could be extradited to either Algeria or
Germany. The Salafist brigade, with up to 4,500 members, appears on the
State Department list of terrorist groups.
Saifi was almost captured in a U.S. military-led operation in March
2004, the sources said. They said Saifi and leading Salafist insurgents were
pursued through southern Algeria into Chad by U.S. special operations forces
in cooperation with North African militaries. Last week, a U.S. electronic
reconnaissance aircraft searched northern Mali for Saifi.
Over the last few weeks Saifi has been held by a rebel group in Chad
based near the Algerian border. The sources said the group was being offered
millions of dollars to hand over Saifi.
Saifi was a paratrooper in the Algerian military in the early 1990s. In
1992, he was said to have been dismissed from the army because of
disciplinary issues and the following year joined the Armed Islamic Group.
In 1998, Saifi and his colleagues broke off from the Islamic group and
established the Salafist Brigade. Saifi was appointed the commander of the
Fifth District and was said to have established a huge smuggling and
hijacking network in the Sahara.
The capture of Saifi has not ended Islamic insurgency attacks in
Algeria and Islamic sources said the Salafist brigade has already appointed
a new commander. On Tuesday, two Algerian soldiers were reported killed and
others were injured in bombings in eastern Algeria.