Photo confirms death of feared Algerian Islamist in gun-fight

 

ALGERIA: A Photograph of the dead leader of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) was published on the front page of every Algerian newspaper yesterday. Antar Zouabri (31) lay on a stretcher in the headquarters of the first military region at Blida, one eye closed, the other open. His scarred face was thinner than it appeared in previous pictures.

Zouabri and two other GIA men were killed in a gun-battle in the centre of his home town of Boufarik, 35km south of Algiers. "This animal barely resisted," Maj-Gen Brahim Cherif Fodil said when he showed the body to the press. "He fell like a potato."

One of the dead men, Abdelhakim Boumediene, had been freed under President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika's amnesty law.

Less than 24 hours after Zouabri's slaying, six civilians were shot dead in nearby Bougara - an act of revenge by the GIA. Two hundred and ten people have been killed in Algeria this year - far more than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The 10-year-old civil war seemed to subside in late 2001, but violence has increased dramatically in recent weeks. Legislative elections are scheduled for early in the summer, against a backdrop of nationwide social unrest and outright rebellion in the Kabylie region.

Zouabri became leader of the extremist group in July 1996, after his predecessor, Djamel Zitouni, was killed by fellow Islamists. Zitouni was responsible for the GIA's Christmas Eve hijacking of an Air France flight in 1994, and a series of bombings in Paris in 1995.

Zouabri earned a reputation for cruelty and horror by ordering the mass killings of thousands of Algerian civilians, often by beheading and evisceration. In a 60-page "profession of faith", Zouabri wrote that Algeria had become "a land of Jihad, where there is no room for infidels".

Under Zouabri's leadership, the GIA is believed to have committed the massacres of Rais and Ben Talha in August and September 1997. The proximity of military checkpoints and barracks led to allegations of complicity by the Algerian armed forces.

Zouabri came from a large family in the Mitidja, the fertile plain south of Algiers. His relatives supported the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which won the only free elections in Algeria's history, aborted by the army in January 1992. Zouabri's brother Ali was killed in 1993, the year that Zouabri deserted from the Algerian army.

The death of Antar Zouabri was mistakenly reported in the past, but this time his body was identified by a recently imprisoned GIA member, and the corpse's fingerprints matched army records.