ALGIERS, Algeria – Former terror chiefs have called on Al Qaeda-linked insurgents battling Algerian authorities to lay down their arms and benefit from a pardon, media reported Saturday.
Authorities are trying to persuade an estimated 500 active militants linked to Al Qaeda to lay down their arms.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika hinted repeatedly during his re-election campaign last month that he would consider a general amnesty for those renouncing violence.
The three were formerly members of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC, one of the armed factions that battled Algerian authorities in the 1990s. Up to an estimated 200,000 people have been killed in the violence that erupted in 1992 — now sporadic but deadly.
They called on militants not to "blindly follow the actions of Al Qaeda" in the message published Saturday by Algerian newspapers — an unprecedented appeal by such high-profile leaders.
A letter was also read, allegedly written by Amar Saifi, known as Abderrazak El Para, a notorious detained terror chief held responsible for the 2003 desert kidnapping of 32 European tourists, mainly Germans.
"The jihad has no reason to continue," read the purported letter from El Para, once a special forces paratrooper. There was no way to independently verify that the letter read in El Para's name was written by him.
The enigmatic El Para was caught by rebels in a remote desert region of Chad in 2004 then transferred to Libya. He was transferred again to Algeria and remains in detention. The daily Liberte said he could face trial for leading attacks that killed dozens of soldiers.
"I regret what I've done, and I pray God that those still fighting do the same," El Para was quoted as saying in the letter read by Omar Abdelber, a former GSPC spokesman.
The group appeal by the three was first broadcast Friday by national radio. Abou Zakaria, a former GSPC medical operations chief, claimed he was working with authorities to ensure judicial and financial guarantees for terrorists who choose to "reintegrate society."
The third former terrorist making the appeal was Mosaab Abou Daoud, a former field commander.
Security officials declined to comment on the orchestrated appeal.
The former insurgents said kidnappings, including those of two Western tourists currently held in neighboring Mali, are "a barbarity" that does not serve Islam.
Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa claimed responsibility for the latest kidnappings. A senior U.N. peace envoy was among a group released last month.
Thousands of fighters turned themselves in after Bouteflika's charter for national reconciliation, with a clemency offer, was passed in a 2005 referendum.
Many GSPC leaders have surrendered, but hard-liners led by Abdelmalek Droukdel joined Usama bin Laden in 2006 and formed Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa.
The appeal came as security forces fought gunbattles with militants near Algiers. At least eight insurgents and two soldiers were killed in an army sweep this week.