Middle East

Top AQIM member killed in Algeria: government official

ALGIERS: Algerian security forces killed a top member of an Al-Qaeda regional offshoot and two accomplices who were trying to reach Algiers aboard a car laden with explosives, a government official said Thursday.

The official said Abdelkahar Belhadj, son of former Islamic leader Ali Belhadj, was killed Monday as he was heading for the capital Algiers with a small group of Islamic extremists and that they were plotting a bomb attack.

Belhadj, born in 1988, joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2006 and took the battle name of “Mouawia,” in tribute to one of the companions of the Prophet Mohammad.

Belhadj’s father had been deputy leader of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose armed wing tried to overthrow the government in a bloody civil war from 1992 to the early 2000s.

The government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Belhadj was “riding a grey Hyundai Atos” with two other people, one of whom was wearing a belt of explosives.

The Islamists clashed with security forces who tried to force them to stop and shot at their car, which exploded, a source in the security forces told AFP. “Three soldiers were wounded.”

“It’s confirmed. It is the son of Ali Belhadj who has been killed. There has been DNA identification of the body” of Abdelkahar Belhadj, the government source said.

But Abdelkahar’s uncle Abdelhamid Belhadj, saying he was a spokesman for Ali Belhadj, told AFP: “We are unaware of reports that he is dead.”

“The security forces already told us that they would let us know in the event of his death,” he added.

“We have had no phone calls from the security forces.”

The daily Ennahar, quoting reliable sources, Wednesday reported the death of the man, during a bloody incident about 60 kilometers east of the capital.

Ahead of the holy month of Ramadan next month, security forces have been stepping up security around the country. Ennahar’s security expert Mohammad Mokaddem said “several attacks have been foiled and at least 15 terrorists plotting attacks have been arrested recently.”

A spectacular suicide bombing raid on July 16 which targeted a police station in Bordj Menaiel which was claimed by AQIM, claimed two lives and left 14 people injured.

Mokaddem said the surge in suicide attacks was linked to the civil war in Libya and the proliferation of weapons in the region.

Separately, Algeria dramatically boosted its grain imports Wednesday in a move believed to be designed to stave off social unrest ahead of Ramadan, when food prices usually shoot up.

The strategy, analysts said, is designed to guard against a popular revolt like that in neighboring Tunisia.

Five Algerians were killed and 800 injured during five days of riots in January, sparked by a rise in the cost of basic goods like oil and sugar.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 29, 2011, on page 9.




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