Asharq Al-Awsat- Three high-ranking militants in the Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) surrendered to the Algerian security services. The militants “handed themselves in the last few days along with large amounts of weapons and money”, informed sources told Asharq al Awsat.
Abu Bilal al Albani, responsible for the group’s external relations, Abu Omar Abdul Bir, who head of the media wing and a third man whose identity was not revealed but who hails from Qasr al Bukhari, south of the capital , surrendered on 26 December 2005 in al Mediya, south of Algiers. The men vowed to encourage other militants to give up armed struggle.
Pressure from the security services and the ongoing reconciliation process motivated the Islamists to give themselves in, sources told Asharq al Awsat. “Continuous pressure by the security services on terrorists hideouts persuaded these high-ranking militants to surrender,” a source told Asharq al Awsat.
This latest surrender represents a heavy blow to the GSPC and sources expected the group’s leadership to be in disarray as a result, especially as the three militants were close to its current commander, Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud.
While Abu Omar Abdul Bir is considered the highest ranking official in the group, sources indicated that Abu Bilal was coordinating with Mokhtar Belmokhtar, another leading member in the group currently in the Sahara desert, to smuggle weapons from southern Algeria to the group’s hideouts in the north.
In November, Belmokhtar’s father told Asharq al Awsat he was in contact with his son in an attempt to convince him to give himself in and benefit from the charter for peace and national reconciliation, approved by Algerians in a September poll and which grants amnesty to Islamic militants.
The French language newspaper in Algeria, Le Jeune Independent (Youth), had indicated on Sunday that Bilal was arrested with two aides “suspected of trying to re-establish al-Qaeda linked terrorism cells in the North African country”.
Sources told Asharq al Awsat in Morocco that Abu Bilal had contacted the Moroccan Mohsen Khaybar, who is wanted on an international warrant, and is thought to have fought in Iraq under Abu Musab al Zarqawi. It remains unclear whether the authorities in both countries were talking of the same man.
Abu Bilal, who spent several years in Syria and fought in Afghanistan, is connected to the Algerian Abu Basir, whose name was mentioned in an investigation into the militant Tawhid wal Jihad cell in Morocco, sources said. Moroccan members of the group had confessed, during interrogation, that they had planned to travel to Algeria to receive training at a military camp run by GSPC.