CAIRO Ñ 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
"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
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.