Al-Qaida's North African affiliate said Tuesday that the son of a Muslim fundamentalist icon has been killed in a confrontation with security forces, drawing attention to the new generation of fighters challenging Algeria's government.
Abdelkahar Belhadj, said to be 23 at the time of his death, was the son of Ali Belhadj whose party's thwarted electoral victory in 1991 catapulted Algeria into a 20-year-long insurgency that has left an estimated 200,000 people dead.
While the death of the young Belhadj is unlikely to have a significant impact on the battle against Islamist extremists, he represented a link between two eras _ the bloody massacres and brutal counterinsurgency tactics that nearly toppled the Algerian state and the present sporadic but deadly attacks under the globally known banner of al-Qaida.
Belhadj would have been a toddler when his father, then a charismatic 35-year-old preacher, fired up crowds of thousands at Friday prayers two decades ago to help make the Islamic Salvation Front party the leading political force in Algeria _ until it was banned.
The army stepped in to abort legislative elections in 1991 that the party was poised to win, triggering the insurgency and introducing the West to jihad, or holy war _ a decade before the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. An estimated 200,000 people _ insurgents, security forces and civilians _ were killed since 1992.
Abdelkahar Belhadj left home in 2006 to join what was by then a waning but still deadly insurgency, according to Algerian newspapers. That same year, insurgents of the Salafist Group for Call and Combat joined al-Qaida, broadening the movement's base from Algeria to all of North Africa and burnishing its appeal to potential fighters.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, also known as AQIM, posted a video message on Belhadj's death on militant websites. It showed a clean-shaven boyish-looking man firing an automatic rifle, or walking in the scruffy backcountry.
Algeria's Arab-language paper Ennahar had reported the July 25 killing of Belhadj and two others at a checkpoint as they drove in an explosives-laden vehicle toward Algiers from the mountainous east, a region where the group's fighters hide out.
The more than 10-minute video, produced July 29, says Belhadj and another person detonated their explosive belts because "they did not want to be humiliated." The video claims 15 soldiers were killed or wounded.
Algerian security forces rarely report deaths or injuries of their own, and the circumstances of Belhadj's death could not be independently confirmed.
The elder Belhadj could not immediately be reached for comment. The young Belhadj had been reported killed in the past, but with no official confirmation from AQIM.
Belhadj and FIS co-founder Abassi Madani were freed from jail in 2003 after a dozen years behind bars, convicted of attacking the security of the state. Ali Belhadj today lives in the Algiers suburb of Kouba, keeping a low profile.
The FIS was created in 1989 thanks to a constitutional change allowing for a multiparty system. In a meteoric rise, it swept municipal elections the following year and won the first round of the 1991 legislative vote. The army canceled the second round. Radicals on the fringes of the party _ some trained in Afghanistan _ took over the vacant political space with violence.
Ganley reported from Paris.