Islamist leader goes free in Algeria under amnesty agreement
The deputy-chairman of a banned Algerian Islamic party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was released on Monday by Algerian authorities after almost nine months in prison.
Ali Belhadj, who was arrested in July 2005, had been charged with voicing support for anti-U.S. fighters in Iraq, according to Reuters. His comments coincided with the death of two Algerian diplomats in Iraq's capital.
Belhadj had previously served a 12-year term along with FIS leader Abassi Madani. He was considered a security risk by Algerian authorities, and could attract hundreds of thousands of people from across the country to his speeches during the height of his group's influence.
"He left the prison less than two hours ago. He is at the mosque," said his brother, Abdelhamid.
The move on the part of Algerian authorities is part of an amnesty in which 2,629 Islamist prisoners will be released this week in an effort to promote national reconciliation and end a civil war which has lasted for more than 10 years.
According to Algerian Justice Minister Tayeb Belaiz, the first group of prisoners, numbering 150, was released on Saturday.
Islamic fighters will also be granted six months to surrender and receive a conditional pardon as part of the amnesty.
In 1992, military-backed authorities in Algeria scrapped a parliamentary election which the FIS was poised to win, throwing the nation into war.