ALGIERS (AFP) – Over 7,500 Islamist militants have downed their weapons since a 2005 peace and reconciliation accord was put into place, while nearly 1,300 have been killed by security forces, an official said Sunday.
Since the accord proposed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was approved in a September 2005 referendum, a total of 1,290 Islamist militants have been killed, said Merouane Azzi, the head of the legal team responsible for the accord’s implementation.
Among the 7,540 militants who surrendered were 81 “emirs” or leaders, including founding member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) Hassan Hattab who turned himself in to Algerian authorities in September 2007.
Hattab had been excluded by the group, which in 2006 joined Osama bin-Laden’s Al-Qaeda network and renamed itself Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
While overall the intensity of Islamist violence has dropped considerably in Algeria in recent years, the Sahara region has seen a dramatic increase in the activities of smugglers and militants linked to AQIM, which has claimed several attacks and kidnappings of foreigners.
AQIM has claimed the kidnapping last month in Niger of seven foreigners — five French nationals, a Togolese and a Madagascan — and is believed to be holding them in Mali along the southern edge of the Sahara.