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Former Algerian defense minister arrested in Geneva over war crimes

A former Algerian defense minister has been arrested and questioned in Switzerland on suspicion of committing war crimes during Algeria’s civil war, a Swiss human rights group said.

Retired army general Khaled Nezzar, 73, was arrested in Geneva on Thursday morning and questioned by the public prosecutor of the Swiss confederation, Track Impunity Always (TRIAL) said in a statement on its website.

Algeria plunged into a cycle of violence in 1992 after the military-backed authorities cancelled an election Islamists were poised to win. More than 100,000 people have been killed since, mostly civilians.

Algeria’s defense minister from 1990 to 1994, Nezzar was considered one of the regime’s most powerful figures, according to TRIAL. He has been accused by human rights group of inciting torture, committing murder and other acts of inhumane treatment

Nezzar was released on Friday pending further legal procedures, a spokeswoman for the Swiss prosecutor’s office told Swiss news agency SDA.

“The winds of the Arab Spring have reached Switzerland,” said TRIAL’s director Philip Grant.

However, TRIAL criticized the Swiss prosecutor for releasing Nezzar “on the basis of a promise to attend” future hearings, saying he should have been kept in protective custody as he presented a high flight risk.

No one at the Swiss public prosecutor’s office or the Algerian embassy in Switzerland could immediately be reached for comment by Reuters on Saturday.

The prosecutor’s office opened the investigation following accusations by TRIAL as well as complaints from two victims, SDA reported.

Swiss law allows those accused of violating international humanitarian law to be prosecuted once a suspect is on Swiss territory.