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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Algerian Islamist Leader Arrested

ALGIERS, Algeria -- Algerian authorities placed the former leader of a banned Islamic group under house arrest Monday, a day after he called for dialogue to end the country's 5 1/2 year insurgency.


The Algerian government order said Abassi Madani must remain in his home and may have contact only with his family members. Authorities threatened to send him back to prison if he disobeyed.


Madani, who was freed from jail July 15 after spending six years in prison, had already received one warning to refrain from political activity since his release.


But over the weekend, Madani in an open letter had urged the United Nations to "open a serious dialogue'' to end the violence that has claimed more than 60,000 lives.


In the letter dated Saturday, Madani said he was "ready to launch an appeal to bring an immediate end to the bloodbath'' in which the rival Armed Islamic Group was blamed for the recent slayings of hundreds of people.


It was an unusually conciliatory message by Madani, who wants to establish an Islamic state in Algeria.


UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has not reacted to the letter, but he did condemn recent massacres in Algeria and urged tolerance following brutal killings Friday in which 300 people were slain.


The Algerian Foreign Ministry on Sunday reacted sharply to Annan's remarks, saying they represented an "unacceptable interference'' in the country's internal affairs.


Despite Madani's efforts to start dialogue, violence continued unabated.


Independent sources and media said Monday that Islamic militant had killed 33 civilians and security forces killed 15 militants.


Nineteen of the civilians were members of two families, and 13 of the dead were children, including three infants. They were slain over the weekend in a western coastal area known as Miramar, about 150 kilometers south of Algiers.


The 14 other civilians were killed early Saturday by armed men who erected a fake police barricade near Khemis Niliana, about 100 kilometers outside the North African nation's capital. Witnesses said the attackers sprayed two packed taxis with gunfire, killing everyone inside.


Algerian government security forces, meanwhile, killed 15 suspected militants in a gun battle in north-central Algeria on Sunday, sources said. It was not immediately known whether any security forces were wounded or killed.


About 1,500 people have been killed in attacks attributed to Islamic militants since early June, when the government swept Algeria's first multiparty elections with promises to crush the insurgency. In August alone, about 700 people were believed killed.


The insurgency erupted in 1992 after the military-backed government canceled a parliamentary runoff that the Islamic Salvation Front was expected to win.


The militants want a government based on their strict interpretation of Koranic law, which would, among other things, require women to cover their heads, ban alcohol and institute compulsory religious education.