A former leader of Algeria’s Islamist insurgency has urged members of al Qaeda’s North African wing to lay down their arms, in what security experts said was part of a government strategy to split the insurgents. Algeria’s leaders are keen to draw a line under an insurgency that has troubled the North African oil and gas producer for nearly two decades.

SURRENDERA security crackdown has led to a sharp drop in attacks and the authorities are now trying to drive home their advantage by persuading waverers inside al Qaeda’s ranks to accept a long-standing amnesty offer, observers say. An appeal to the insurgents from Amari Saifi, previously a senior figure in the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat — the precursor to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — was published on Saturday in several newspapers.

“Armed action brought pain and suffering to our people … the truth is that such actions have nothing to do with Islam,” Saifi, also known as Abderazak El Para, said in the appeal. The former militant, who masterminded the 2003 kidnapping of 32 European tourists, has never previously made a public appeal to the insurgents to surrender.

In the past month similar statements have been issued by Hassan Hattab, who founded the Group for Salafist Preaching and Combat, and by former AQIM propaganda chief Ben Messaoud Abdelkader. A senior Muslim cleric who has offered to mediate between the government and insurgents said the appeals were aimed at a category of al Qaeda militants in the middle ground between the hardliners and former fighters who turned themselves in.



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