In a late night operation, Algeria's army killed the leader of an Islamic State splinter group blamed for the kidnapping and beheading of a French hiker, the Ministry of Defense said Tuesday.
The militant, Abdelmalek Gouri, was killed together with two associates in the army ambush late Monday in the town of Isser near the city of Boumerdes, 25 miles east of Algiers, the ministry said in a statement.
Two other militants also were killed Tuesday morning nearby, the ministry said.
A local security official said the military had been tracking Gouri for a while and nearly caught him a month before.
"This time the intelligence services had information that he was coming to visit his parents so they set an ambush," the officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group in Syria kidnapped French hiker Herve Gourdel in the Djurdjura mountains in September, and issued a video condemning French participation in US-led airstrikes in Iraq.
As Algeria scrambled to find the hostage in the mountainous region, Gourdel was beheaded on video a few days later. The group later issued other videos showing masked men carrying weapons in a forest and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group.
The Algerian army has since carried out a massive search of the remote mountains to find the group. In October and again in December, it killed two of its members.
Gouri, a former Al Qaeda commander, split from Al Qaeda in September and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, promising new operations.
While Al Qaeda is active in the deserts in the deep south of Algeria, its activities in the northern mountains are restricted to just occasional attacks on soldiers.