Algerian troops tracked down and killed the leader of an Islamic militant group that beheaded a French hostage on video three months ago, the country's Defense Ministry said Tuesday.
The execution of kidnapped French hiker Herve Gourdel by militants swearing fealty to the Islamic State shocked France and drew condemnation around the world.
The Algerian military operation on Monday east of the capital, Algiers, targeted Abdelmalek Gouri, identified as the leader of the militant group Soldiers of the Caliphate, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. At least four other suspected members of the group were reported to have been killed as well, two in the initial raid and two in a skirmish nearby early Tuesday.
Soldiers of the Caliphate, a former Al Qaeda offshoot, earlier this year declared its allegiance to the Sunni Muslim militants of the Islamic State and apparently sought to emulate their tactics. The group said Gourdel, 55, was beheaded in retaliation for France's participation in the U.S.-led coalition that is confronting the Islamic State.
Gourdel, an experienced mountain guide from the southern French city of Nice, was seized a day after arriving in Algeria's rugged Djurdjura National Park, a popular destination for hikers.
The Islamic State, whose Sunni fighters burst out of Syria over the summer and overran an arc of Iraqi territory, has made a grim practice in recent months of beheading captives and posting videos of the killings online. Victims have included two American journalists, two British aid workers and a group of Syrian soldiers.
The Algerian military operation targeting Soldiers of the Caliphate was among its most concerted in recent years. Algeria endured a bloody civil war in the 1990s, pitting government forces against Islamic militias. Attacks by Islamist armed groups declined dramatically after the conflict ended, but some Al Qaeda splinter groups have remained active, especially in the south.