DAKAR, Senegal – Rebels holding the Sahara's most-wanted surviving terror suspect accused Libya on Monday of spoiling a deal to surrender the Islamic extremist to the West.
Amari Saifi (search), the former No. 2 man of Algeria's violent Salafist Group for Call and Combat (search), was claimed captured by Chad rebels earlier this year as West African armed forces backed by France and the United States chased him across the Sahara.
Chad rebels told The Associated Press on Monday they had turned over two of Saifi's accomplices to Libyan agents at the two countries' border on June 25.
Libya, however, had failed to keep its word to turn over the two men to the West, Brahim Tchouma, an official in exile for the rebels' Movement for Justice and Democracy in Chad (search), told the AP by telephone.
As a result, Chad rebels were balking at turning over Saifi himself, Tchouma said.
"The Libyans didn't want to cooperate, and so we have stopped our negotiations" with them, Tchouma said.
The rebel official also denied a widely cited report Sunday that Libya had captured Salafists in the Chad rebels' own regional base, as detailed in the French Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
The newspaper claimed Salafists there were planning terror attacks on French and U.S. interests in Africa.
"That's a joke, but nothing coming from Libya surprises us," Tchouma said.
It appeared the Libyan claim may have been related to suggestions that at least one faction of Tchouma's own group was operating under the direction of the Algerian terror group, in the remote Sahara region of Tibesti (search).
The Chad rebel official denied it, saying, "We will fight any suggestion that we have launched a single terrorist act."
Libyan officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
Saifi — a former Algerian special forces paratrooper known by his nom de guerre, Al Para — is accused in the killings of 43 Algerian soldiers and the Sahara kidnapping of 32 European tourists, one of whom died in captivity. Both occurred last year.
Saifi's boss, Salafist Group for Call and Combat top man Nabil Sahraoui (search), last year declared the Algerian movement an ally of Al Qaeda.
The move heightened fears in the West of terror groups making inroads along little-policed Sahara crossroads between the Middle East and Africa.
Algerian troops killed Sahraoui and three of his top lieutenants last month.
France and the United States lent logistical support to three Sahara nations earlier this year as their forces pursued the Salifist No. 2, Saifi, across the Sahara.
Tchouma said Monday that the Chad rebels captured the fleeing al Para and his cohorts without a shot fired.
"They were very tired men, who had been wandering lost about 10 days. We captured them without combat," the rebel leader said.
He identified the two accomplices surrendered to the Libyans late last month only as Nourradine Grega and a Mr. Billal.
Western diplomats and others have accused the Chad rebels of shopping al Para himself among Western and African countries in search of reward money.
An official with one of the countries involved in the situation told the AP on Sunday that $600,000 esd being sought for al Para's surrender.
Tchouma said negotiations had returned now to the Algerians.
"We haven't demanded a ransom, but we wouldn't refuse if one of those involved gave us something for delivering al Para," he said.
For now, "he's still in our hands, in Tibesti," a remote, mountainous area of Chad.