ALGIERS (AFP) - An Algerian court passed 16 death sentences Tuesday and Wednesday as 18 people were tried in connection with a string of bombings carried out by Islamists in 2007.
Nine death sentences were pronounced on Tuesday, including one against Abdelmalek Droukdel, the fugitive head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), Al-Qaeda's north African offshoot.
And seven were handed down on Wednesday, including one against Fateh Bouderbala, considered to be the Algiers AQIM chief.
Two of the accused were sentenced Wednesday to jail terms of 10 and three years.
Only nine of the accused were in court for the trial, while the others were sentenced in absentia.
They were convicted of participation in three bomb attacks on April 11, 2007 that killed 20 people and wounded 222.
The first attack saw a bomber drive an explosives-laden car into a guard post outside the government headquarters housing the prime minister's office in central Algiers, killing 12 people and injuring 135.
Minutes later, bombers driving two cars triggered explosions in the eastern suburb of Bab Ezzouar, on the road to the international airport and not far from one of Algeria's largest universities.
A fourth attack was thwarted when security officers defused a car bomb, according to court documents in the trial that opened on March 14, 2011.
Droukdel, a 41-year-old engineer by training whose alias is Abou Moussaab Abdelouadoud, fought in Afghanistan and is said to consider as his mentor Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq killed by the US military in 2006.
He became the leader of what was then called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in 2004, muscling his way in by brutally eliminating rivals. The group has since changed its name.
He is seen by experts as a ruthless chief who introduced suicide bombings in Algeria.
AQIM also operates in Niger, Mali and Mauritania but its leadership is dominated by Algerians. It was founded in the late 1990s with the aim of toppling the Algerian government and creating an Islamic state.
In another trial on Monday, a court in Bouira in eastern Algeria sentenced Droukdel and three others to death in absentia and ordered the seizure of their goods and properties for terrorism, murder and massacres.