An Algerian court has sentenced a man to death for the kidnapping and murder of French hiker Hervé Gourdel in 2014, after a high profile one-day trial.
Gourdel, 55, was abducted in September 2014 while exploring the rugged massif in Algeria’s Djurdjura National Park, a draw for hikers, but also long a sanctuary for jihadists.
Three days after he disappeared, gunmen from militant group Jund al-Khilafa – a jihadist faction affiliated to the Islamic State armed group – published a gruesome video of his beheading and claimed responsibility for his death.
The trial opened on Thursday with 14 defendants, eight of whom were accused of being jihadists and were charged with Gourdel’s kidnapping and murder.
Only one of the eight, Abdelmalek Hamzaoui, appeared in court, with the other seven tried and sentenced to death in absentia.
Questioned by the judge, Hamzaoui had denied having taken part in Gourdel’s abduction and killing, telling the court he was accused only to “close the case and please the French”.
Hamzaoui was sentenced to death, but Algeria has had a moratorium on executions since 1993.
– Jeune Afrique (@jeune_afrique) February 19, 2021
‘Still in shock’
Members of Gourdel’s family, including his partner Françoise Grandclaude, attended the trial.
“I find it very difficult to talk about him (Gourdel), we are still in shock,” Grandclaude said. “But I remember that there are a lot of inconsistencies in the words of the main accused.”
Six others also on trial, accused of failing to inform authorities promptly of Gourdel’s abduction, were all acquitted, according to an AFP journalist at the court.
Five were Gourdel’s climbing companions and spent 14 hours in captivity along with him before being released.
Several of them formally identified Hamzaoui in court as being one of their kidnappers.
Their lawyers said they also were victims of the kidnapping, while a sixth man, whose car was stolen to transport Gourdel, was also cleared of charges.
Gourdel’s murder sparked outrage in both France and Algeria, where it triggered memories of the 1992-2002 civil war between Islamists and the army that left some 200,000 dead.
The murder came in the wake of the Islamic State group’s dramatic takeover of northern Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014.
Gourdel, an experienced mountaineer, had travelled to Algeria to try out a new climb.
His kidnappers demanded an end to air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria by a US-led coalition that included France.
They posted a video of his beheading online after Paris rejected their demand.
François Hollande, French president at the time, condemned the killing as a “cruel and cowardly” act.
Gourdel’s body was not recovered until January 2015, after an operation involving some 3,000 Algerian troops.
Earlier this month, his partner Françoise Grandclaude welcomed the news that the trial was “finally taking place” and hoped it could offer “hope for the families and loved ones of victims affected by terrorism”.