Algerian special forces have killed the leader of the rebel group responsible for kidnapping and beheading French tourist Herve Gourdel in September, Algeria's ministry of defence has said.
Abdelmalek Gouri, also known as Khalid Abu Suleiman, was killed on Tuesday in an ambush near Boumerdes, 50km east of Algiers, it said in a statement.
Gouri was a veteran of Algeria's 1990s conflict and leader of the Jund al-Khilafa, or “Caliphate Soldiers” group, which declared its allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in September.
Jund al-Khilafa beheaded Gourdel on September 24 in a gruesome video posted online after France rejected their demand to halt air strikes in Iraq.
A former regional head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Gouri had aligned his fighters with ISIL, whose battlefield clashes and declaration of a "Caliphate" in Iraq and Syria have drawn in other North African groups, challenging al-Qaeda.
Two other fighters were killed in a separate operation on Tuesday in nearby Tizi Ouzou, the ministry's statement said, in the same mountains that have long been home to bands of rebel fighters. Known locally as the "triangle of death", the region used to be a stronghold of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Algerian forces have killed 110 fighters in 2014, according to a military source, and Algeria remains an important US ally in its fight against armed groups in the region.