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Islamist head calls for rebels to lay down arms

Latest update : 2008-08-20

In the wake of a suicide bombing at an Algerian paramilitary training centre that killed 43 people and injured 45 Tuesday, the founder of Algeria's most prominent Islamist rebel group called on militants to lay down their arms.


ALGIERS, Aug 19 - The founder of Algeria's largest Islamist rebel group called on al Qaeda-linked militants to lay down their arms on Tuesday after a bomb killed dozens of people at a military academy.


Hassan Hattab, founder of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), surrendered to the authorities last year in response to a government amnesty aimed at drawing a line under years of civil conflict that left around 150,000 people dead.


The bloodshed has eased in recent years but a hard core of several hundred GSPC rebels adopted the Al Qaeda name early in 2007 and began a campaign of deadly urban bombings from their stronghold in the mountainous Kabylie region east of Algiers.


"I advise you to reconsider and refrain from what you are doing and return to the arms of your society and your families," Hattab was quoted as saying in an appeal to the rebels.


"I advise you ... not to hesitate in laying down your weapons," he said in comments published by the Algerian newspaper Ennahar, which specialises in security matters.


On Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a group of prospective paramilitary gendarmes lining up to get into the school for qualifying exams, witnesses said.


The government said 43 people were killed and 45 wounded in what it called a "cowardly" attack.


Hattab had already criticised the GSPC in March 2006, calling on its members to accept the amnesty, more than a year before his formal surrender was announced.


Security experts say Hattab is still influential in Islamist militant circles.


"We have reviewed our course of action sincerely and concluded that it is a dead end with no exit and that it was a Sharia duty to stop fighting," the paper cited Hattab as saying in its Web edition.


Algeria plunged into violence in 1992 after the army-backed authorities, fearing an Iran-style revolution, scrapped a parliamentary election that an Islamist party was set to win.


The GSPC was founded in 1998 when Hattab broke away from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in protest at its many massacres of civilians.


Hattab was condemned to life in prison in absentia in June 2006 for "killing and membership of a terrorist group".


Date created : 2008-08-20