Algeria jails North African Al-Qaeda leader for life

Algeria on Monday jailed one of the most radical leaders of Al-Qaeda's northern Africa branch, fugitive Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, for life in absentia for creating "an international terror group", one of his lawyers said.

Abou Zeid "was sentenced to life in prison while five members of his family were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment each for forming an armed international group", lawyer Omar Boukadouss told AFP.

A prosecutor earlier Monday called for a 20-year prison sentence for fugitive Abou Zeid, for his role in kidnapping Westerners.

The prosecutor said 11 co-accused who have been detained since 2010 should be sentenced to prison for between 15 and 20 years, also for membership of an terror group. Five of them are members of Abou Zeid's family.

The trial, the first of its kind, had opened earlier in the day.

Abou Zeid, whose real identity - Mohamed Ghdir - was officially revealed in court, is an Algerian in his 40s from a region close to the border with Libya.

He is believed to have been under direct orders from Amari Saif, also known as Abderrezak El Para, who is regarded as the mastermind of the kidnap of 32 Europeans trekking in Algeria's Sahara desert in 2003.

The group seen responsible for the abductions later renamed itself Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Abou Zeid is believed responsible for a series of kidnappings, including that of Briton Edwin Dyer, who was killed in June 2009, and of five French nationals, a Madagascar national and a Togolese in northern Niger in 2010.

A French woman and the two Africans have since been freed but the other French nationals are still missing.

Abou Zeid heads the jihadist unit Tareq Ibn Ziyad, which comprises about 200 well-trained men, mostly from Algeria, Mauritania and Mali, who are mainly based in northern Mali.

The "international terror group" was headed by Abou Zeid and active in the Algerian Sahara and the Sahel region to the south "to kidnap foreign tourists and ask for ransom", according to the prosecution.

It said Abou Zeid's new strategy was to "recruit [drugs, fuel or arms] smugglers in the Sahara and use them in their criminal plans".

The accused admitted to giving Abou Zeid's group financial and logistical backing and providing fuel for which they paid with money from drug and cigarette smuggling on the border between Algeria and Libya.

The court also heard that they saw a group of hostages held by Abou Zeid in southeastern Algeria in 2003 and that they met Abderrezak El Para, real name Amari Saifi, the supposed mastermind behind the kidnapping of the Europeans, in the same area.

Chadian rebels, who captured Abderrezak El Para after Libyan mediation, handed him over to Algerian security forces in 2004. He is still being detained.

Algerian security forces meanwhile said that they killed the local AQIM leader in the Tizi Ouzou region, 110 kilometers (70 miles) east of Algiers, on Monday.

El-Khechkhache, real name Mohand Ouramdane, and his deputy died in the village of Azib Ahmed, about three kilometres (two miles) from Tizi Ouzou.

His group is seen behind suicide attacks in the region in the last two years.

-AFP/NOW Lebanon