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Algeria Releases Islamic Salvation Front Detainees - 2003-07-02

Algerian authorities have freed two leaders of the country's banned Islamic Salvation Front. The men were detained for more than a decade for allegedly threatening state security.

The two leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front, Abassi Madani and Ali Balhadj, were freed after completing 12-year prison terms for allegedly attacking the security of the country.

Mr. Madani, the head of the Islamic Salvation Front, served his term under house arrest in Algiers, while his deputy, Mr. Balhadj, was held at a military prison about 30 kilometers from the capital.

A lawyer for the men, Ali Yahia Abdennour, said they will be attending Friday prayers this week with a big gathering of their sympathizers.

Though now free, both men are banned from future political activity. But there are fears among some of Algeria's political elite that the two may seek to reignite unrest in Algeria ahead of presidential elections in 2004.

But Hala Mustapha, an expert on Muslim militancy at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, believes the two men will not do anything to provoke authorities. It is more likely, she said, that they will use political means to gain power for the Islamic Salvation Front.

"They want to be integrated into the political process, they abandoned violence partially, compared with the other militant armed groups in Algeria and other parts of the Arab world," she said.

The two men were arrested in the early 1990s, shortly before the Islamic Salvation Front was banned as it was on the verge of winning parliamentary elections. The elections were annulled by Algeria's military authorities, triggering a decade of bloody revolt by Islamists that cost more than 100,000 lives.

Though the violence has subsided in the past two years, some hard-line activists are continuing to wage a bloody campaign to install an Islamic state in Algeria.