An Algerian court has sentenced a jihadist to death for the kidnapping and beheading of a French mountaineer six years ago, following a high-profile one-day trial.
Hervé Gourdel’s murder in 2014 was claimed by a jihadist faction affiliated with the Islamic State group.
Gourdel, 55, was abducted while exploring the rugged massif in the North African nation’s Djurdjura National Park, a draw for hikers but also a sanctuary for jihadists.
Three days after his disappearance, gunmen from the militant group Jund al-Khilafah – Soldiers of the Caliphate – published a gruesome video of his murder.
The trial opened Thursday with 14 defendants, eight of whom were accused of being jihadists and charged with the kidnapping and murder of Gourdel.
However, only one of the eight, Abdelmalek Hamzaoui, is in custody. The other seven were tried and sentenced to death in absentia.
On Thursday, Hamzaoui was taken to court by wheelchair ambulance accompanied by a medical team and watched by special police forces.
At the request of defense lawyers, the opening of the trial was delayed for two weeks due to poor health.
When questioned by the judge, Hamzaoui denied having participated in Gourdel’s kidnapping and murder, and told the court that he was charged only to “close the case and please the French.”
Hamzaoui was found guilty and sentenced to death, although there has been a moratorium on executions in Algeria since 1993.
Members of Gourdel’s family, including his partner, Francoise Grandclaude, were in the public gallery.
“I find it very difficult to talk about him [Gourdel], we are still in shock, “said Grandclaude. “But I remember that there are many inconsistencies in the words of the main defendants.”
Another six also tried, accused of not informing authorities promptly about Gourdel’s kidnapping, were acquitted, according to an AFP journalist in court.
Five were Gourdel’s climbing companions, who spent 14 hours in captivity with him before being released.
Four of them formally identified Hamzaoui in court as one of the kidnappers.
“I remember Herve’s last look when he was taken away by force,” testified Hamza Boukamoum, one of his climbing guides.
“We tried to stop them, but they pushed us back, saying, ‘You don’t care, he’s not Muslim.’
Their lawyers said they were also victims of the kidnapping, while a sixth man, whose car was stolen to transport Gourdel, was also acquitted of charges.
Gourdel’s assassination sparked outrage in both France and Algeria, where it sparked memories of the 1992-2002 civil war between Islamists and the military that left some 200,000 dead.
The assassination followed the dramatic takeover of northern Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State group in the summer of 2014.
Gourdel, an adventure enthusiast, had traveled to Algeria at the invitation of his climbing partners to try a new climb.
His hijackers demanded an end to air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria by a US-led coalition that included France. Paris had rejected his demand.
Gourdel’s body was not recovered until January of the following year, after an operation in which some 3,000 Algerian troops participated. His remains were found in a booby-trapped grave.
In February, Grandclaude welcomed the fact that the trial “finally took place.” Saying it was “very personal,” he said the process could offer “hope for the families and loved ones of victims affected by terrorism.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism