Islamist leader freed in Algeria
One of the founding leaders of Algeria's militant Islamist groups has been freed from prison, as part of an amnesty backed by the president. Abdelhak Layada, also known as Abu Adlane, had been sentenced to death in connection with his role in the civil war, in which some 150,000 people died. He set up the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in 1992 after the army cancelled polls which Islamists were set to win. More than 2,000 people are to be freed under the new amnesty. The law came into effect last month after being approved in a referendum last year.

As he left prison, Mr Layada was greeted by his family and by the deputy-chairman of the Islamic Salvation Front (Fis), Ali Belhadj, who was himself released less than a week ago. Mr Layada was arrested in Morocco in 1993.

The amnesty also offers a pardon to militants on the run who surrender within the next six months, as long as they are not responsible for massacres, rapes or bombings of public places. The amnesty has been criticised in some quarters for granting the military immunity for prosecution. It has also been rejected by the Salafist Group for Fighting and Preaching (GSPC) - the only militant group which remains active. But the BBC's Mohamed Arezki Himeur says its military capacity has been hit by the security forces and it is confined to the mountains east of the capital, Algiers.

The amnesty is the second since President Abdelaziz Bouteflika took office seven years ago. He says it will help heal Algeria's wounds after years of a brutal and bloody conflict. The conflict erupted in 1992 after the authorities annulled a general election which Fis appeared set to win.
Posted by: Steve 2006-03-13