Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune phoned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month to secure the return of a fugitive military official who fled Algeria days after its powerful army chief died in December, a top Algerian security source said.
GuermitBounouira was handed over to Algerian security officials in Turkey onJuly 30, accused of leaking military secrets, and was set to face amilitary judge on Aug. 3 in Blida prison southwest of Algiers, thesource told Reuters.
Turkishofficials were not immediately available to comment on Aug. 2, whichis not a working day in Turkey. A lawyer for Bounouira was notimmediately available for comment.
Turkey’ssurrender of Bounouira to Algerian authorities underscores theimportance Ankara attaches to its relationship with Algeria, apowerful neighbour of Libya where Turkish forces have intervened inthe civil war.
Tebbounephoned Erdoğan about a week before the Eid al-Adha holiday, whichbegan on July 31, to request he hand Bounouira over, the source said.
Bounouira,a top aide to the late army chief Ahmed Gaed Salah, is accused ofleaking a chart showing movements of army officers including theirnames and codes, the source said. The chart has circulated on socialmedia, embarrassing the army, although it was unclear who posted it.
GaedSalah emerged last year as Algeria’s most powerful man when weeklymass protests succeeded in unseating the veteran president, AbdelazizBouteflika, and a host of other officials.
However,Gaed Salah died suddenly of a heart attack on Dec. 23, weeks after apresidential election that he had pushed for, but which the streetprotest movement opposed as illegitimate.
Bounouirafled to Turkey in the week after Gaed Salah died and the Algeriansecurity source said he had subsequently leaked military secrets toactivists based abroad.
“Guermitwas Gaed Salah’s closest man. As such he was aware of militarysecrets,” the source said.
Tebboune,who won the December election, is trying to stamp his own mark onAlgeria’s government after Bouteflika’s two decades in office andappointed a new army chief in January, though the military remainsAlgeria’s most powerful institution.
TheAlgerian president has pushed for Libya’s neighbours to have abigger role in finding a solution to the conflict there, and opposesdirect foreign involvement.
Turkeydirectly intervened there in January in support of theinternationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA)against eastern-based Libyan forces backed by Russia, the United ArabEmirates and Egypt.
ForAnkara, any direct Algerian opposition to its role in Libya couldcomplicate a military operation far from its own shores.
However,despite some disagreements over Libya, Algeria and Turkey havemaintained good relations. “We have worked very well with ourcounterparts in Turkey,” the Algerian security source said.