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Algeria trial over French mountaineer’s murder postponed

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Algeria trial over French mountaineer’s murder postponed

Updated 05 February 2021

AFP

ALGIERS: A trial in Algeria over the murder of French mountaineer Herve Gourdel by terrorists in 2014 was postponed on Thursday due to the prime suspect’s ill health, judicial sources said.


Abdelmalek Hamzaoui, an alleged terrorist, had arrived at court for the opening hearing of the trial in a wheelchair, and according to a doctor who accompanied him, he is asthmatic and had undergone hip surgery.


“Given the state of health of the main defendant Hamzaoui, the court decided to postpone the case to Feb. 18,” said the presiding judge of the court in Dar El Beida, a suburb of Algiers.


The slain hiker’s partner, Francoise Grandclaude, was “disappointed” about the postponement, said her lawyer, Chawki Benarbia, gave the same reason for the postponement.


Gourdel, 55, was abducted on Sept. 21, 2014 while exploring Djurdjura National Park, a draw for hikers but which has long been a sanctuary for extremists.


Three days after he disappeared, gunmen from militant group Jund Al-Khilafa published a video of his execution-style beheading.


France had rejected their demand to halt airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.


Three months later, after a massive manhunt, Gourdel’s body was found in a booby-trapped grave.


Fourteen people face charges over the case. Only Hamzaoui is known to be in custody.


Seven others are being tried in absentia, but no details have been made public on the charges they face.


Gourdel’s Algerian guides are also accused of failing to alert the authorities to his kidnapping, while another person is facing unspecified charges.


Gourdel’s gruesome killing caused shock both in France and in Algeria, where it triggered memories of the decade-long civil war between Islamists and the army that left some 200,000 dead.


The murder came in the wake of Daesh terrorists dramatic takeover of northern Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014.


Jund Al-Khilafa — Arabic for Soldiers of the Caliphate — had sworn allegiance to Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi just weeks before his killing.


Hamzaoui, arrested in late 2014 on suspicion of belonging to Jund Al-Khilafa, is accused of “kidnapping, torture and premeditated murder” as well as joining an “armed terrorist group” — charges that can carry the death penalty.


Gourdel’s five Algerian guides, who were initially captured alongside him but were released hours later, had also been due to appear in court.


They are accused of neglecting to tell the authorities they were hosting a foreign national and of failing to raise the alarm promptly after he was kidnapped.


The Algerian government has said this delay had given the kidnappers time to flee.


But ahead of the trial, a lawyer for one of the guides had questioned the logic of the charge, which could carry a sentence of up to five years’ jail.


“My client informed the authorities as soon as he could — after he was released by the kidnappers,” said Faycal Ramdani.


Authorities have not made public any details on the other defendants.


Two decades since the end of Algeria’s civil war, the authorities regularly report clashes between the army and militant groups.


In 2016, authorities said they had wiped out almost all the Jund Al-Khilafa group.

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(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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