Abdelhak Layada, one of the founding leaders of Algeria’s Islamic Armed Group (GIA), was released from prison on Monday. Also known as Abu Adlane, he signaled his readiness to act as a mediator between the government and armed Islamic militants hiding in the mountains to convince them to join the reconciliation project.
Algerians overwhelmingly voted last year to support President Bouteflika’s Charter for National Reconciliation which would see more than 2000 people freed and a pardon extended to militants on the run if they surrender during the next six months, as long they are not responsible for massacres, rapes or bombings of public places.
The amnesty is the second since Bouteflika took office seven years ago. He says it will help heal Algeria ‘s wounds after years of a brutal and bloody conflict.
Layada was sentenced to death in connection with his role in the civil war, in which more than 150,000 people died. He was arrested in Morocco in 1993.
Asharq al Awsat met the former GIA commander in the Algerian capital’s southern suburbs less than 24 hours after his release. The Baraki area where Layada lives with his family was a hotbed for armed Islamic militants in the early 1990s. Many have indicated that Abu Adlane’s house was where the GIA was born but Layada denies this. “Contrary to what many believe, [the group] was established in Bougra, [30 km south], where many people had gathered.” At the time, Layada was an active member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). He refused to speak in detail about the group’s creation and the principles it was based on. It is blamed for a series of horrific massacres that took place between 1996 and 1998.
Wearing a brown long-sleeved shirt, Layada received Asharq al Awsat in a modest room in his house. He seemed unaffected by the years he spent in jail but declined to answer questions relating to Algeria’s civil war because “they might stir up painful emotions. I want to turn the page completely on the past according to the Charter for National Reconciliation.”
The former GIA leader told Asharq al Awsat he was convinced the death sentence against him, issued in June 1994, would not be implemented “because I was aware the authorities had suspended the death penalty in 1993. I knew I would be released one day.” The last death sentence was carried out against 10 individuals who were charged for their role in bombing Algiers’ airport in 1992. On President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s Charter, Layada said, “It is a significant positive step towards achieving peace but it is incomplete because it closes the door of political participation in front of us.”
Layada indicated he would consider returning to politics in the future. “Why not? We want the authorities to open the way for everyone to take part in politics and that we be allowed to talk to the media.” He viewed his release as a good will gesture by the government and a message to armed groups. “It’s as if they are saying: we have vowed to apply the Charter and we are thereby releasing Layada.”
During his leadership of the GIA, between September 1992 and April 1993, Layada led a number of military operations against military targets. “I supervised an attack on a military camp east of Algiers. We captured 12 soldiers and took all their arms. We released them later.”
In June 1993, Layada was arrested in Morocco and extradited to Algeria. He defended fleeing and said, “It is a long story I do not wish to get into. I did not go to Morocco to escape. I went there in search of a solution. I will speak about it in detail later.”
Abu Adlane denied playing a part in the murder of the prominent Algerian intellectual Taher Jaout in 1993 for which he was charged, insisting he was in neighboring Morocco at the time. He expressed bewilderment as to why President Bouteflika did not consult the GIA and the FIS before going ahead with his Charter for Peace and Reconciliation. “I believe those two [groups] are the key to resolve the conflict.”
He also recalled how he was asked to exercise his influence to bring an end to the violence in 2001 from inside jail. “I insisted I wanted to meet [FIS leader] Abbas Madani and [his deputy] Ali Belhadj to discuss the issue. But my request my refused.” He described Belhadj, who was released less than a week ago, as “a man who loves Algeria. His words are respected by militants.”
In a message to the government, Layada said, “Give us six months under the right conditions and we can achieve unprecedented results in order to restore security (in Algeria).”