Algerian army kills suspected militants, seizes missiles

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria’s army said on Friday it had killed three Islamist militants near the eastern city of El Oued and seized a large quantity of weapons including six anti-aircraft missiles.

One of those killed in the operation late on Thursday was Kamel Arabiya, a senior militant and veteran of Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, the defense ministry said in a statement.

Arabiya led the local brigade of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and according to news reports may have recently pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

The military said it had recovered six Stinger surface-to-air missiles, two explosive belts, three rocket-propelled-grenade launchers and more than 20 guns.

The Algerian military is on high alert because of the risk from neighboring Libya, where militants have taken advantage of a security vacuum to build their presence in the region.

A security source told Reuters the weapons seized on Thursday were “very likely from Libya, our biggest headache right now”.

Following the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, some intelligence experts estimated that as many as 10,000-15,000 man-portable air defense system (MANPAD) sets were looted from Libyan government stockpiles.

Algerian security services have previously found hundreds of MANPADs near the Libyan border. Such weapons can bring down aircraft with surface-to-air missiles.

Algeria has slowly emerged from a conflict with armed Islamists in the 1990s that left as many as 200,000 dead, and still sees occasional militant violence in parts of the country.

It is considered a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist extremism in North Africa.

Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Roche