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Pentagon Believes Key Algerian Terror Suspect Not Killed in Gunbattle - 2004-03-24


The Pentagon does not believe a key Algerian terrorist suspect was killed in a shoot-out with government forces in Chad earlier this month.

Until now, U.S. officials have said they did not know whether Algerian-born Saifi Ammari, also known as Abdarrezak the Para, was killed in the shoot-out in Chad in which more than 40 suspected members of his Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat died.

But a leading Pentagon military official overseeing U.S. counter-terror training efforts in the Sahel indicates the Para may have escaped.

In a State Department interview (The Washington File), U.S. Army Colonel Vic Nelson is quoted as responding by saying "We do not think so," when asked if the Para died in Chad.

Colonel Nelson confirms the Pentagon's belief that the alleged terrorist leader and his band were pursued across the Sahel region from their bases in the Algeria-Mali border area by various forces in a cooperative effort.

He says, quoting now, the Para is, "on the run from Malian and Algerian forces, ran all the way through Niger, whose security forces picked up his trail and ran him into Chad, whose forces attacked and destroyed elements of his band."

The colonel does not discuss any U.S. role in the pursuit.

But other defense sources have previously told the Voice of America U.S. forces provided critical aerial surveillance information along with other intelligence and communications in the joint operation.

The blow delivered to the Salafist group in Chad is considered a major success for the State Department sponsored Pan-Sahel Initiative, a counter-terror training program involving Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

U.S. Army Special Forces have just concluded the training effort in Mali and Mauritania. Forces in Chad and Niger are scheduled for similar instruction later this year.

Colonel Nelson is the principal Pentagon official overseeing the program for the Defense Department's Office of International Security Affairs.