Extradited Algerian military official risks death penalty for divulging secrets

Analysts say the fugitive military official was likely to have already been intensively debriefed by Turkish security and intelligence services and had hence outlasted any usefulness for Ankara.
Monday 03/08/2020
A 2019 file picture of Algeria’s late army chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah during the swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algiers. (REUTERS)
A 2019 file picture of Algeria’s late army chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah during the swearing-in ceremony of the newly elected Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algiers. (REUTERS)

ALGIERS– Fugitive military official Guermit Bounouira, who was handed over to Algerian security officials in Turkey last Thursday, is accused of divulging military secrets and was expected to face a military judge Monday in Blida prison south-west of Algiers, a top Algerian security source told news agencies.

Algerian sources say Bounouira risks the death penalty for the type of charges he faces.

Algeria’s president phoned his Turkish counterpart last month to secure the return of the fugitive official, who fled Algeria days after its powerful army chief died in December, the security source added.

Analysts say the fugitive military official was likely to have already been intensively debriefed by Turkish security and intelligence services and had hence outlasted any usefulness for Ankara.

Turkey’s surrender of Bounouira to Algerian authorities after a formal request by Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune underscores the importance Ankara attaches to its relationship with Algeria, a powerful neighbour of Libya where Turkish forces are directly involved in war.

Refusal to hand over Bounouira would have been considered Casus belli by Algiers, said Algerian opposition newspaper Algerie Patriotique.

Tebboune phoned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about a week before Eid al-Adha holiday, which began on Friday, to request he hand Bounouira over, the source said.

Bounouira, a top aide to the late army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, is accused of leaking a chart showing movements of army officers, including their names and codes, the source said.

The chart has circulated on social media, embarrassing the army, although it was unclear who posted it.

Gaid Salah emerged last year as Algeria’s most powerful man when weekly mass protests succeeded in unseating the veteran president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and a host of other officials.

However, Gaid Salah died suddenly of a heart attack on December 23, weeks after a presidential election that he had pushed for, but which the street protest movement opposed as illegitimate.

Bounouira fled to Turkey the week after Gakid Salah died and the Algerian security source said he had subsequently leaked military secrets to activists based abroad. He is also suspected of having sold classified information for personal gain.

“Guermit was Gaid Salah’s closest man. As such he was aware of military secrets,” the source said.

Tebboune, who won the December election, is trying to stamp his own mark on Algeria’s government after Bouteflika’s two decades in office and appointed a new army chief in January, though the military remains Algeria’s most powerful institution.

The Algerian president has pushed for Libya’s neighbours to have a bigger role in finding a solution to the conflict there, and opposes direct foreign involvement.

Turkey directly intervened there in January in support of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) against eastern-based Libyan forces, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, by providing the GNA with weapons, direct military advice and thousands of mercenaries.

For Ankara, any direct Algerian opposition to its role in Libya could complicate a military operation far from its own shores.

However, despite some disagreements over Libya, Algeria and Turkey have maintained fairly good relations.

“We have worked very well with our counterparts in Turkey,” the Algerian security source said.

Analysts speculate that Algeria’s insistence on the extradition and prosecution of Bounouira reflects at least partially the ongoing competition for influence among various factions of the North African country’s post-Bouteflika political-military establishment and the desire to purge the remnants of the Gaid Salah era.