The main defendant in the trial of the murder of Frenchman, Hervé Gourdel, has been sentenced to death by an Algerian court.
The deceased was a high-mountain guide and was beheaded by jihadists in 2014.
Five others accompanying Gourdel and a 6th defendant, who were also facing trail for failing to inform officials in time of his abduction, were acquitted.
Prosecutors had requested the death penalty for Abdelmalek Hamzaoui, one of the deceased’s alleged kidnappers.
Hamzaoui,36, told president of the court that he did not take part in the kidnapping and murder. He said he was accused to ‘’close the case and please the French.”
Gourdel, 55, was abducted while exploring the rugged massif in Algeria’s Djurdjura National Park, a draw for hikers, but also long a sanctuary for armed groups.
Three days after he disappeared, gunmen from militant group Jund al-Khilafa — Arabic for Soldiers of the Caliphate — published a gruesome video of his murder.
Of the 14 suspects, eight are accused of being jihadists and charged with Gourdel’s kidnapping and murder.
However, only one of the eight, Abdelmalek Hamzaoui, is in custody, with the others being tried in absentia.
On Thursday, Hamzaoui was brought to court by ambulance in a wheelchair accompanied by a medical team and watched over by police special forces.
At the request of defence lawyers, the trial opening had been delayed for two weeks because of his ill health
Members of Gourdel’s family, including his partner Francoise Grandclaude, were in the public gallery.
“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.”
The other six on trial are accused of failing to inform authorities promptly of Gourdel’s abduction.
Five were Gourdel’s climbing companions and spent 14 hours in captivity along with him before being released.
Four of them formally identified Hamzaoui in court as being one of the kidnappers.
“I remember Herve’s last look as they were forcibly taking him away,” testified Hamza Boukamoum, one of his climbing guides.
“We tried to stop them, but they pushed us back saying: ‘You don’t care, he’s not a Muslim.’”
Algerian authorities say their failure to raise the alarm promptly after Gourdel was seized gave the kidnappers time to flee, charges they deny.
The sixth suspect is accused of failing to promptly report the theft of his car by the kidnappers to transport the captive Frenchman.
All six face up to five years in prison if they are found guilty.
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.
The adventure enthusiast had travelled to Algeria at the invitation of his climbing companions 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.
Gourdel’s body was not recovered until January the following year after an operation involving some 3,000 Algerian troops.
His remains were found in a booby-trapped grave.
In February, his partner Grandclaude had welcomed the fact that the trial was “finally taking place”.
Saying it was “very personal”, she said the process could offer “hope for the families and loved ones of victims affected by terrorism”.
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