Algeria captures fugitive Salafist insurgent

Friday, October 29, 2004

CAIRO Algerian officials said the Interior Ministry has arrested Amir Saifi, regarding as the top fugitive by the North African state. Officials said Saifi was responsible for the abduction of 32 Western European tourists in 2003.

"Amar Saifi was intercepted in Libya near the Chadian-Libyan border," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. "He is wanted in Algeria for numerous terrorist crimes which he has committed or commanded since 1992."

Officials deemed Saifi the No. 2 figure in the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call. Saifi served in the Algerian paratroop brigade before he defected and joined Islamic insurgents in the early 1990s.

Saifi fled Algeria to Chad in early 2004 amid a military offensive against the Salafists, Middle East Newsline reported. In March, Saifi was captured by rebels in northern Chad and held for ransom.

The ministry did not say whether the Chad rebels, termed the Movement for Democracy and Justice, transferred Saifi to Algerian authorities. The statement said Saifi was handed over to Algerian authorities by Libya.

Officials said Algeria and Germany were discussing Saifi's fate. Berlin has sought Saifi for the abduction of the European tourists during a trek through the Sahara desert in February 2003. He was said to have received 5 million euros to release the European hostages and Western intelligence agencies assess that most of the money might have been spent on weapons.

Saifi was said to have been the commander of the Fifth District in the Salafist Brigade. The district covered the southern Sahara and Saifi controlled much of the smuggling to and from Algeria and used the money for weapons and recruits.

In March 2004, the United States led a search for Saifi and other Salafist operatives in North Africa. Many Salafist operatives were said to have fled Algeria for neighboring countries such as Chad, Mali and Mauritania.

The Salafist Brigade has sustained a series of sharp blows over the last year. In June 2004, Salafist leader Nabil Sahrawi was killed in an Algerian military operation. In September, the Salafists announced the appointment of a new leader, Abdul Malik Droukdel.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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