Algeria confirms it killed extremist chief behind beheading

Residents and mountain climbers pose as they pay their respects to mountain guide Frenchman Herve Gourdel, who was beheaded by a militant group, at the Tikjda mountain ranges near the village of Ait Ouabane on Oct 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Residents and mountain climbers pose as they pay their respects to mountain guide Frenchman Herve Gourdel, who was beheaded by a militant group, at the Tikjda mountain ranges near the village of Ait Ouabane on Oct 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ALGIERS (AFP) - The Algerian army confirmed on Tuesday that it has killed the head of the extremist Jund al-Khilafa group that decapitated a Frenchman in September.

The body of Abdelmalek Gouri, who claimed responsibility for the beheading of Frenchman Herve Gourdel, was identified at the end of an operation in the town of Isser "that allowed us to eliminate three terrorists," the army said in a statement.

The army killed two other members of Jund al-Khilafa in the same operation in the small town in the Kabylie region, the channel said.  

Earlier it had reported that the men were killed near Sidi Daoud – 20 kilometres away – before the defence ministry said the shooting took place in Isser, home to a police training facility.  

Nahar TV had also reported that the security services confirmed Gouri’s identity, but the ministry said the “identification of the terrorists is continuing”.  

On Saturday, the army said it killed three other Islamist gunmen in a mountainous area near Sidi Daoud, and that one of them was a “dangerous criminal” wanted since 1995, when the hunt for Gouri was launched.  

Soldiers seized a large quantity of guns, ammunition and explosives during the operation.  On December 11, Algerian Justice Minister Tayeb Louh announced that soldiers had killed two members of Jund al-Khilafa implicated in the murder of French mountain guide Herve Gourdel.  

Gourdel, 55, was kidnapped in September and later beheaded by the group that was formed at the end of August after splintering from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and pledging allegiance to IS.  Violence involving armed Islamists has fallen considerably since the civil war of the 1990s, but groups linked to AQIM continue to launch attacks in the northeast, mostly on security forces.