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SLUG: 2-286253 Algeria / Extremist








INTRO: The head of one to two main extremist groups waging war in Algeria has been killed by Algerian security forces in what is being called a significant step in the government's effort to end the civil war. V-O-A's Greg LaMotte has the details from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

TEXT: Antar Zouabri, head of the Armed Islamic Group, or G-I-A, was killed in a gun battle with Algerian security forces Friday in Boufarik, some 15 miles south of the capital, Algiers.

His death is considered a major step in the military-backed government's fight against a decade-long Islamic insurgency that has cost an estimated 150-thousand lives.

Algerian authorities say security forces surrounded the house in which Zouabri and two other members of the G-I-A were located. Authorities say a shoot-out occurred, and all three men in the house were killed.

News of Zoubri's death comes exactly 10 years after Algeria's military-backed government imposed a state of emergency. It gave the military broad police powers to crack down on Islamic militants who gained support after the Islamic Salvation Front was prevented from winning elections a few months earlier.

The state of emergency was declared on February 9th, 1992, the date marked as the start of Algeria's civil war.

Since then the G-I-A, along with the extremist "Group for Salafist Preaching and Combat," is blamed for violent atrocities against Algeria's civilian population.

In 1999 both groups rejected an offer of amnesty from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as part of a national reconciliation program.

More than 200 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in violent battles since the beginning of the year.

Zoubri's body was formally identified by security forces, who said they found weapons and what they described as "subversive documents" in the house.

His death leaves only one other major insurgency leader, Hassan Hattab, still alive. (Signed)


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