Militants kill five Algerian police – papers


Islamist militants ambushed and shot dead five Algerian paramilitary gendarmes southwest of the capital Algiers, last week, three newspapers report.

The five were killed Thursday and a sixth was wounded in the Wednesday attack, in which militants detonated a bomb before opening fire on two police vehicles in Medea province, 100 km (60 miles) from Algiers, the newspapers Liberte, El Khabar and Echorouk said.

The assailants took the victims’ weapons and uniforms and fled into a forest after the attack, the independent dailies said, citing local sources and eyewitnesses.

The authorities have not confirmed the reports, and there was no claim of responsibility for the attack, Reuters adds.

A group called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for most recent attacks in the north African country, which is emerging from more than a decade of violence that broke out in 1992.

The armed group has been weakened by government amnesties to encourage rebels to disarm.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda’s North Africa wing has said it will give Britain a further 15 days to release a Jordanian Islamist before carrying out its threat to kill a British hostage it is holding.

“After the British negotiator’s request for extra time to settle the file, we announce to public opinion that the organisation has decided to give a final additional period of around 15 days from the end of the first period,” the group said in a statement on a website used by al Qaeda-linked groups.

“We call on the family of the British hostage to put pressure on the government and we assure them that this extra time limit will not be repeated…”

The group had said that it would kill the Briton by May 15 if the British government did not release Abu Qatada, a Jordanian Islamist it is holding in prison.

The statement was dated May 20 and it was not immediately clear why the extension had not been announced earlier.

Britain, which has not disclosed the name of the hostage, said it was working for his safe release. It gave no details.

“We are continuing to work for the safe, swift and unconditional release of the hostage,” a spokeswoman for Britain‘s foreign office said, adding “our thoughts are with the family and friends at this very difficult time”.

Abu Qatada, named by a Spanish judge as the right hand man in Europe of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, has been held in Britain since 2005. He denies belonging to the group.

Britain‘s highest court ruled in February he could be deported to Jordan despite fears he may be tortured there.

Analysts say the Sahara desert has become increasingly insecure and the lines between ideology and criminality have become blurred.

Tuareg rebellions are simmering in both Mali and Niger, Islamist groups are seeking to spread their influence south from Algeria and there is a long tradition of trafficking in cigarettes, weapons and people.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Canadian diplomats and four European tourists in the past five months. The two diplomats and two of the tourists were freed in Mali in April.

An Algerian newspaper reported on Saturday that al Qaeda had demanded 10 million euros in exchange for the Briton and a Swiss national it captured in the Sahara, but the statement made no mention of a ransom.

Al Qaeda’s chief in the desert region, Hamid Essoufi, also known as Abdelhamid Abu Zeid, was behind the ransom demand, the El Khabar daily cited an unnamed security source as saying.