ALGIERS (AFP) - Three armed Islamists, including a senior member of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) thought to be close to its leader, have been arrested in southern Algeria, official media reported Monday.
Necib Tayeb, also known as Abderrahmane Abou Ishak Essoufi, one of the oldest members of Al-Qaeda's north African branch, headed its so-called "judicial committee" and had been wanted since 1995, the APS news agency said.
The three men were arrested last Wednesday in the town of Berriane, some 600 kilometres south of Algiers, as they were travelling towards the Sahel border region in a 4X4 vehicle, APS reported, citing well-informed sources.
The operation, which was carried out by the Algerian army's special forces, dealt a "fatal blow" to AQIM, according to the same sources, given Tayeb's close links to AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel.
An Algiers court in June sentenced Droukdel to death in absentia for a series of murders and bombings.
AQIM, which stems from a group started in the late 1990s by radical Algerian Islamists, formally subscribed to Al-Qaeda's ideology in 2007, but after a string of high-profile attacks, the army managed to severely curtail its operations.
It has since been boosted by the turmoil in neighbouring Mali that followed a coup there in March, with hardline Islamist occupying the country's vast northern region.