By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian special forces have shot dead four Islamist militants, including two deputies to the leader of al Qaeda's North African wing AQIM, a security source told Reuters.
The raid on Friday night in the region of Bouira, east of the capital, also uncovered a cache of money that was likely to have been paid to secure the freedom of Western hostages, said the source, who asked not to be named.
"We have also seized a big amount of euros, very likely from the ransoms paid by Western governments to AQIM during hostage taking operations," the source told Reuters.
AQIM has amassed an estimated 120 million euros from ransom money paid in exchange for releasing Westerners over the past decade, according to security experts.
It has focused most of its activities in the Sahel region of north Africa, but maintains a robust presence in Algeria's so-called "triangle of death" between the towns of Bouira, Boumerdes and Tizi Ouzou, some 100 km (60 miles) from Algiers.
The source said the two deputies killed were Abu Al Walid Tuhami, who had been in charge of AQIM's communications, and Ayadh Abu Abderahmane, AQIM's coordinator between different regions.
Tuhami, 36, joined Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2002 and became close to leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, one security analyst, who asked not to be named, told Reuters. Abderahmane joined the group in 1999, the security source said.
AQIM last month confirmed the death of two other senior commanders earlier this year in Mali, where France led a military campaign to halt an offensive by al Qaeda-linked Islamists and end their 10-month control of the north of the country.
Veteran jihadist Abdelhamid Abou Zeid was also a trusted lieutenant to the group's elusive leader Droukdel. The other man confirmed killed was brigade commander Abdallah Al Chinguetti, Mauritania's ANI news agency said.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Alison Williams)