Algerians Nab Top Al Qaeda Affiliate

Algeria's army has captured a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda's North Africa wing, who has been accused of masterminding a spate of kidnappings and using the ransom to buy weapons and explosives, a report said Wednesday.

The suspect, known by the alias Zakaria, is suspected to be the chief treasurer for Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, Liberte newspaper reported.

He was arrested during a sweep in the Tizi Ouzou region of Kabylie, about 60 miles east of the capital, the paper said. The report said three other suspected militants were killed during the same operation.

Zakaria was found in possession of 1.8 million dinars (about $27,000), though he is believed to have raised more than 400 million dinars ($6 million) in recent months, the newspaper said.

Algeria has worked to quell sporadic violence from an insurgency that erupted in 1992 after the army canceled elections that a fundamentalist Islamic party was set to win.

An estimated 200,000 people — civilians, soldiers and Islamic extremists — have died in the ensuing violence, which peaked in the mid-1990s.

Coordinated suicide bombings hit the capital, Algiers, in April, killing 30 people and raising fears of a new surge in violence. Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa claimed responsibility for those attacks.

Zakaria is accused in a series of kidnappings of entrepreneurs and wealthy people in the predominantly Berber Kabylie region, the paper said.

Without citing its sources, Liberte said the money from the ransoms was used to finance recent car bombings — including the Algiers attacks.