Algerian Islamist leaders to be freed

Two leaders of a banned Islamist party in Algeria are due to be released on Wednesday as newspapers reported the killing of four people in fresh violence.

Madani (L) and Belhadj (R) to be
released on Wednesday

The head of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) Abbassi Madani and his deputy Ali Belhadj are expected to be freed after 12 years of imprisonment, according to their defence lawyers and government sources.


Both were arrested shortly before Algerian authorities cancelled the second round of parliamentary elections, which FIS was poised to win, in January 1992.


Canceling the elections prompted the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) as well as some FIS activists to take up arms against successive military-installed governments.


More than 100,000 people were killed in the bloody violence since 1992.


The FIS had sought to establish an Islamist state. But after it was banned in March 1992, its influence waned.


However, Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia statements to Algerians last week were not very conciliatory.


“We fought the FIS, we fight them now and we’ll fight them again,” he said ahead of the two Islamist leaders’ release.


“It’s not a political question but a question of existence,” Ouyahia said. 


Several politicians and intellectuals have expressed their support of the release of Madani and Belhadj, saying it would help reconcile the North African country.


Newspapers reported that authorities would make a deal with the two Islamist leaders, who would be freed only if they agree not to take part in politics for a certain period after their release.


Violence continues


As authorities prepared for the release of Madani and Belhadj, violence continued to grip the country.


Three men, suspected of being Islamists, were killed by security forces on Friday in an ambush in the Djelfa region, 275 kilometres south of the capital Algiers, several papers reported.


Four members of the security forces were wounded in the same incident.


A former Islamist, previously missing, was found with his throat slit on Saturday in the Jilel region, 360 kilometres east of Algiers.


Meanwhile, a mass grave with at least 13 bodies was discovered on Saturday in the bed of Sebaou River near Tizi Ouzou, 110 kilometres east of the capital.


The perpetrators of this crime could not be positively identified.