Algerian prosecutors on Sunday requested the death sentence for Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a top leader in Al-Qaeda’s north African branch, and another person in a trial on the deaths of 2 Algerian soldiers.
Belmokhtar and nine co-defendants, of whom 4 are also on the run, are accused of perpetrating several “terrorist acts” including a May 2010 attack on soldiers in the southern Djelfa region that left 2 dead.
Belmokhtar, a native of central Algeria, is a founding member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which later became known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
He heads one of AQIM’s 2 main katibas (battalions), controlling the group’s southern area.
Prosecutors also sought capital punishment for Abdelkader Benchneb, the chief accused present in court. They urged 15-year jail terms for the others, defence lawyer Hassiba Boumerdessi said.
Algeria has observed a moratorium on capital punishment since 1993.
A ruling was due later Sunday.
Nicknamed “the uncatchable,” Belmokhtar rules over a large swathe of desert that straddles Algeria, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania and where his men are believed to hold several Europeans hostage.
Belmokhtar has already been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in 2004 and 2008, and to 20 years in prison in 2007, over similar charges and the killing of 13 customs officers.
In November Belmokhtar told a Mauritanian news website that AQIM had acquired Libyan weapons during fighting that ended in the overthrow and killing of strongman Moamer Kadhafi.
He said AQIM was still demanding the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the release of its French hostages.
On January 2, an Algiers court sentenced Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, the leader of the other key AQIM katiba who is also on the run, to life in prison for creating “an international terror group”.