Leader of outlawed Algeria Islamist party dies in exile

Abassi Madani, who died this week in Qatar, founded Algeria's now-outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (AFP Photo/Karim JAAFAR)

Algiers (AFP) - The founder of an outlawed Algerian opposition party that pushed for the creation of an Islamic state died Wednesday in Qatar where he was living in exile, his close ally told AFP.

Abassi Madani died at the age of 88 "in a Doha hospital after a long illness", said Ali Belhadj, adding that family members had informed him of the death.

Madani, who had lived in Qatar since 2003, founded the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) with Belhadj in 1989.

He called for armed struggle in 1992 after Algeria's military scrapped the country's first multi-party legislative elections.

The FIS had been on track to win an absolute majority in the polls and the ensuing violence plunged the country into a decade of civil war that left 200,000 dead, according to official figures.

Madani "wanted to be buried in Algeria, but I don't know if it will be possible", Belhadj added.

The former head of FIS's armed wing Madani Mezrag confirmed Madani's death, telling AFP he too had been informed by family members.

For Algerians, Madani remained most associated with the bloodletting during the country's long civil war that pitted the security forces against Islamist armed groups.

He was imprisoned in 1991 and only called for an end to the violence in 1999, as his group said it was laying down its arms.

From his cell he was suspected of directing the organisation's operations.

He was released in 2003 after serving a 12-year sentence but was banned from any political activities.

Madani left Algeria on health grounds after again calling for an armed struggle and moved from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia to Qatar.

In exile he railed against the US invasion of Iraq and called on Algerians to boycott elections at home in 2012.

His death follows a political upheaval in his homeland after long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted by mass protests after attempting to extend his 20-year rule.