By Lamine Chikhi
Algerian soldiers killed the leader of the militant group responsible for kidnapping and beheading French tourist Herve Gourdel in September, a security source and a television station close to the government said on Tuesday.
Ennahar TV said special forces had killed Abdelmalek Gouri, a veteran of Algeria’s 1990s Islamist conflict and leader of the Caliphate Soldiers group, which declared its allegiance to jihadist Islamic State fighters in September.
Caliphate Soldiers kidnapped Gourdel when he was planning a hiking trip in mountains east of Algiers. Militants later showed a video of his beheading, saying they killed him to punish France for its military actions in Iraq.
A former head of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s central region, Gouri had aligned his fighters with Islamic State, whose battlefield successes and declaration of a “Caliphate” in Iraq and Syria have drawn in other North African groups, challenging al Qaeda.
Ennahar TV said Gouri, also known as Khalid Abu Suleiman, and two other militants were killed in fighting in the mountainous region east of the capital that has long been home to bands of militants.
“Yes, the army killed Gouri, and two other terrorists,” a security source familiar with the operation in the Bourmedes area, told Reuters.
In a statement, Algeria’s ministry of defence said three bodies of suspected militants had been found, but the identification process was still ongoing.
Gouri fought with Islamist militants in the 1991-2002 conflict that killed about 200,000 people. He was a member of the Armed Islamic Group, known by its French initials GIA – the most extreme of Algeria’s Islamist guerrillas in the civil war.
His small group had released only a few statements and videos after killing Gourdel to reassert their loyalty to Islamic State. But they had carried out no major operations from their mountain base since then, analysts said.
“This is a blow to Islamic State in Algeria, the small group has only been in existence for a couple of months,” said Algerian security analyst Anis Rahmani. “Killing its chief will affect the morale of the militants.”