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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Algeria trial over French mountaineer's murder postponed

The trial over Herve Gourdel's murder is taking place at Algiers' Dar Al-Baida court [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 February, 2021

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An Algerian court postponed a trial over the 2014 murder of a French mountaineer by jihadists.

A trial in Algeria over the murder of French mountaineer Herve Gourdel by jihadists in 2014 was postponed Thursday due to the prime suspect's ill health, judicial sources said.

Abdelmalek Hamzaoui, an alleged jihadist, had arrived at court for the opening hearing of the trial in a wheelchair, and according to a doctor who accompanied him, he is asthmatic and had undergone hip surgery.

"Given the state of health of the main defendant Hamzaoui, the court decided to postpone the case to February 18," said the presiding judge of the court in Dar Al-Baida, a suburb of Algiers.

The slain hiker's partner Francoise Grandclaude, who travelled to Algeria for the trial, said she was "very, very disappointed" by the delay, but respected the Algerian judiciary's decision.

"We put a lot of hope in the Algerian justice system... that justice will be rendered after seven years of a very, very long wait," she told AFP.

Gourdel, 55, was abducted on September 21, 2014, while exploring Djurdjura National Park, a draw for hikers, but also long a sanctuary for jihadists.

Three days after he disappeared, gunmen from militant group Jund Al-Khilafa published a video of his execution-style beheading.

France had rejected their demand to halt air strikes against the jihadist Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Three months later, after a massive manhunt, Gourdel's body was found in a booby-trapped grave.

Fourteen people face charges over the case. Only Hamzaoui is known to be in custody.

Seven others are being tried in absentia, but no details have been made public on the charges they face.

Gourdel's Algerian guides are also accused of failing to alert the authorities to his kidnapping, while another person is facing unspecified charges.

Gourdel's gruesome killing caused shock both in France and in Algeria, where it triggered memories of the decade-long civil war between Islamists and the army that left some 200,000 dead.

The murder came in the wake of IS jihadists' dramatic takeover of northern Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014.

Guides accused of neglect

Jund Al-Khilafa - Arabic for Soldiers of the Caliphate - had sworn allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi just weeks before his killing.

Hamzaoui, arrested in late 2014 on suspicion of belonging to Jund al-Khilafa, is accused of "kidnapping, torture and premeditated murder" as well as joining an "armed terrorist group" - charges that can carry the death penalty.

Gourdel's five Algerian guides, who were initially captured alongside him but were released hours later, had also been due to appear in court.

They are accused of neglecting to tell the authorities they were hosting a foreign national and of failing to raise the alarm promptly after he was kidnapped.

The Algerian government has said this delay had given the kidnappers time to flee.

But ahead of the trial, a lawyer for one of the guides had questioned the logic of the charge, which could carry a sentence of up to five years' jail.

"My client informed the authorities as soon as he could - after he was released by the kidnappers," said Faycal Ramdani.

Authorities have not made public any details on the other defendants.

Two decades since the end of Algeria's civil war, the authorities regularly report clashes between the army and militant groups.

In 2016, authorities said they had wiped out almost all the Jund Al-Khilafa group.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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