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Armed Islamic Group Chief Killed

February 9, 2002

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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ The leader of the Armed Islamic Group _ Algeria’s most radical insurgency movement _ was killed in a gunfight with security forces near the capital, the official news agency APS said Saturday.

Security forces surrounded Antar Zouabri and two other insurgents on Friday in Boufarik, some 15 miles south of Algiers, and killed him in a shootout, APS reported. No other details were immediately available.

Zouabri has been reported killed in the past, but the latest report from the North African nation’s official news agency made Saturday’s report credible.

Zouabri’s group is blamed for numerous bloody massacres in Algeria, making the Islamic insurgency here one of the world’s most brutal conflicts.

The death of Zouabri marks a major step in the military-backed government’s fight against the decade-long insurgency.

There is only other major insurgency leader still alive: Hassan Hattab of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat.

Zouabri has led the Armed Islamic Group since the killing of it former leader, Djamel Zitouni, in 1996.

Zitouni was blamed for the deadly hijacking of an Air France jetliner on Christmas Eve 1994 and a campaign of bombings in France in 1995.

Up to 120,000 people have been killed since the insurgency started, triggered by the army’s decision to cancel January 1992 legislative elections to thwart a likely victory by the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front party.

A reported 6,000 insurgents have turned themselves in under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s July 1999 ``civil concord″ plan, an amnesty offer for insurgents aimed at reconciling this divided nation. However, a much-reduced insurgency movement continues the violence.

Three separate massacres over the past week that left at least 33 people dead were blamed on the Armed Islamic Group.

Update hourly