Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Rebel group in Chad claims it is holding prominent terrorists

AP , PARIS

A rebel group in Chad says it has captured one of North Africa's most notorious terrorists, an Algerian extremist suspected in the hostage-taking of 32 European tourists last year.

Amari Saifi and nine others were apprehended after a brief firefight in March with members of the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad, and are being held at an undisclosed location in a rebel-controlled zone, a rebel representative said Friday.

Saifi, a former Algerian paratrooper known as "Abderrazak al-Para," is an alleged leader of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, an organization fighting to install an Islamic state in Algeria and alleged to have links to al-Qaeda.

The rebels have sought to contact Algeria, France, Germany, Niger and the US about handing over Saifi and his followers, the representative said.

"The ball is in their court," Brahim Tchouma, the rebel movement's secretary of external affairs, said by telephone in Paris.

"We want to cooperate fully," he said.

A foreign government would have to work out logistics such as flying into rebel territory to retrieve the captives because the rebels don't have the means to transfer them, Tchouma said.

"We're not asking for money because that isn't done in these situations, but we would not refuse aid to help us fight terrorism," Tchouma said.

"We've done the largest part of the work," he said.

Saifa, four Algerians and five Nigerians were seized March 18 after a brief skirmish with the rebels, Tchouma said. Seven other Saifa followers, all Algerian, were captured a few days later, Tchouma said.

Saifa and his supporters, who did not possess identity papers, were identified after rebels contacted Algerian officials to confirm the numbers of several satellite phones they had, Tchouma said.

A total of 32 European tourists -- 16 Germans, 10 Austrians, four Swiss citizens, one Dutch person and a Swede -- were captured by extremists in Algeria last year. All but one, a German who died of heat stroke, were freed.

Germany has issued arrest warrants for Saifi and other top Salafist group leaders in connection with the kidnapping.

Tchouma said the rebels have been holding Saifa's band in secret to allow negotiations with Western countries. They are in good health and are under close watch, he said.

"We have arrested terrorists: These are people who have committed serious crimes, and must be taken to trial," Tchouma said.

"We said we would hand them over to all the countries who issued arrest warrants," he said.

Tchouma said officials from Niger last week proposed mediating a handover of the captives, which could involve a visit to confirm their identities.

The rebels, who control parts of Chad, began their fight against the government of Chadin the northern Tibesti region bordering Libya in 1998.

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