Algeria sentences Sahel tourist kidnappers
By Walid Ramzi for Magharebia in Algiers – 10/01/13
Convicted terrorist Amar Gharbia, (aka Moqatel Abou Jebel) received a life sentence Tuesday (January 8th) in Algiers for kidnapping 15 foreign tourists in 2003.
He was accused of working under the command of Amari Saifi (aka Abderrazak "El Para"), the leader of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb precursor GSPC.
Malian national Youcef Ben Mohamed was acquitted of the same kidnapping charge, but sentenced to seven years in prison for belonging to "an armed terrorist group".
El Para allegedly ordered the kidnappings.
The case dates back to February of 2003 when the GSPC kidnapped 15 foreign tourists, including 10 German nationals, near the border with Mali.
The defendants were also accused of "smuggling banned weapons" and financing terrorist groups with ransom payments.
The attorney-general at the Algiers Criminal Court sought the death penalty for Gharbia and life imprisonment for Ben Mohamed. Saifi has been in detention since his extradition in 2004 to Algeria from Chad.
The attorney-general noted that the "bloody acts that have been committed since 1996 by the accused terrorist group were "countless".
During the hearing, Gharbia denied any role in the operation although he admitted he was present while it was being carried out. He confirmed that El Para was also present. The defendant admitted that, since 1996, he had taken part in several bloody terrorist operations around the country, including the 1997 operations in Tamanrasset where six Sonatrach workers were executed and their vehicle seized and sold in Niger.
Gharbia also admitted to setting up an ambush for Swiss tourists in an area between Ain Saleh and Tamanrasset, seizing their vehicle and re-selling it in Niger.
Moreover, he confessed that his group was involved in the killing of a large number of migrant nomads to seize their weapons and sheep, as well as setting up ambushes for the People's National Army (ANP) personnel.
The defendant said he joined armed action in 1996 in Jbel Boukhil, Djelfa. He joined the group of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, aka Laaouar, the emir of Sahara brigade, in 1998. He then went with Laaouar to Niger for military training.
During the judicial investigation, Gharbia said that he was part of an armed group that met in 2003 at the Malian border with Saifi who told them about the kidnapped German tourists who were held in Kidal.
At the end of this year, tribal chiefs negotiated the handover of those kidnapped hostages to the Malian government, and an agreement was reached on paying an amount of more than 4 million euros. The Germans were released and the terrorist groups used part of that ransom money to purchase military equipment.
The second defendant, Ben Mohamed, allegedly conducted arms deals under the supervision of El Para.
Ben Mohamed denied all charges and withdrew the confessions he made during the investigation. He also denied that he was recruited in Mali by El Para's terrorist group before going with him to Niger.
Saifi did not attend the trial despite the defence request to summon him.
In March 2003, Saifi masterminded an operation to kidnap 32 European tourists. The last hostage was released in northern Mali in August 2003 amid a controversy over European countries' payment of millions of euros in ransom money.
In recent years, Algeria has sought to have an international resolution issued incriminating the payment of ransoms to terrorist groups in return for the release of hostages. Algerian presidential advisor Kamel Rezzag-Bara said that the sums paid to terrorists in return for the releasing of foreign hostages ranged from 115 million to 153 million euros.
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