Algeria sentences jihadist to death for French wandering murder

An Algerian court on Thursday sentenced a jihadist to death for kidnapping and beheading French mountaineer Herve Gourdel six years ago after a high-profile one-day trial.

The assassination of Gourdel in Algeria in 2014 was claimed by a jihadist faction affiliated with the Islamic State.

Gourdel, 55, was abducted while exploring the rugged massif of the North African Nation’s Zoo National Park, a trek for hikers but also long a haven for jihadists.

Three days after his disappearance, gunmen from the militant group Jund al-Khilafa – Arabic for Caliphate soldiers – published a horrific video of his murder.

The trial began on Thursday with 14 defendants, eight of whom were accused of being jihadists and charged with Gourdel’s kidnapping and murder.

But only one of the eight, Abdelmalek Hamzaoui, is in custody. The other seven were tried and sentenced to death in absentia.

On Thursday, Hamzaoui was taken to court by ambulance in a wheelchair along with a medical team and monitored by police special forces.

At the request of defense lawyers, the trial had been delayed for two weeks due to his illness.

Asked by the judge, Hamzaoui had denied involvement in the abduction and killing of Gourdel and told the court he was only accused of “closing the case and pleasing the French”.

Hamzaoui was found guilty and sentenced to death, although there has been a moratorium on executions in Algeria since 1993.

‘Still in shock’

Members of Gourdel’s family, including his partner Francoise Grandclaude, were in the public gallery.

“I think it’s very difficult to talk about him (Gourdel), we’m still in shock,” Grandclaude said. “But I remember that there are many inconsistencies in the words of the main accused.”

Six others who are also facing trial, accused of not informing the authorities about Gourdel’s abduction, were all acquitted, according to an AFP journalist at the court.

Five were Gourdel’s climbing companions and spent 14 hours in captivity with him before being released.

Four of them formally identified Hamzaoui in court as one of the kidnappers.

“I remember Herve’s last look when they forcibly removed him,” testified Hamza Boukamoum, one of his climbing guides.

“We tried to stop them, but they pushed us back and said, ‘You do not care, he is not a Muslim.’

Their lawyers said they were also victims of the kidnapping, while a sixth man whose car was stolen to transport Gourdel was also cleared of charges.

Gourdel’s assassination sparked outrage in both France and Algeria, triggering memories of the 1992-2002 civil war between Islamists and the army that left some 200,000 dead.

The assassination came in the wake of the Islamic State group’s dramatic takeover of northern Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014.

Adventure enthusiast Gourdel had traveled to Algeria at the invitation of his climbing buddies to try a new climb.

His kidnappers demanded that airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria be stopped by a US-led coalition that included France.

Paris had rejected their demands.

Gourdel’s body was not recovered until January of the year after an operation with about 3,000 Algerian troops.

His remains were found in a imprisoned grave.

In February, his partner Grandclaude had welcomed the trial “finally taking place”.

She said it was “very personal” and said the process could offer “hope for families and loved ones of victims of terrorism”.