Algerians kill 'holy war' chief

ALGIERS (AFP) - Algerian authorities have dealt a serious blow to Muslim extremists by killing one of their most radical leaders, Djaafar al-Afghani, and nine of his followers, security officials said yesterday. Afghani was head of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which claimed responsibility for kidnapping three French consular officials last October, and subsequently threatening to kill any foreigners who did not leave the country.

The 29-year-old militant leader and his followers were killed on Saturday as they were holding a meeting in a house on the outskirts of Algiers, the security officials said. They said the fundamentalist leader, who adopted a nom de guerre but whose real name was Mourad Si Ahmed, and his men were shot down after they opened fire on police officers who had surrounded the house.

The deaths came amid fresh unrest here in the last two weeks. Various schools, government buildings and public places have also been set on fire.

Last Wednesday security forces killed another fundamentalist leader, Toufik Hattab, who was charged with taking part in the murder of a former prime minister, Kaski Merbah, and the former head of Algerian television, Mustapha Abada. Eight civilians were killed by fundamentalist militants between Thursday and Saturday in various incidents, security services said.

CAIRO - Egyptian police detained 20 suspected Muslim militants in Cairo during the weekend for attacks on banks, security sources said yesterday, Reuter reports. The militant el-Gamaat el- Islamiya (the Islamic Group) says interest on money is against Islamic law and told people to withdraw their money from 'usurious' banks by 22 February. Six bombs set off since then have caused only light damage.