According to Paris Match, Saifi claims to have been the head of the bodyguard of the Algerian defense minister Khaled Nezzar from 1990 to 1993. It is believed that he joined the armed Islamist movement in 1992 and later advanced to become the second-in-command of the GSPC, but his name did not appear on the GSPC website until 2004. His nickname "El Para" is derived from "paratrooper", as he is believed to have been a trained parachutist in the Algerian armed forces before integrating in the Islamist network.
Saifi became widely known when he was identified as one of the kidnappers who abducted in 2003 a group of 32 tourists, most of them German, in Algeria. It was then that the Algerian government claimed that the former military agent had switched sides.
After the hostages were released in two groups - one liberated by the Algerian army, the other against ransom - Saifi and 50 of his men allegedly left northern Mali and were pursued through Niger by combined Algerian and Malian forces into northern Chad.
In March 2004, Saifi was captured by the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad (MDJT), a Chadian rebel group. The MDJT leaders tried to have him sent to Germany to stand trial, but finally handed him over to the Algerian secret services in October 2004. In June 2005, the Algerian government announced that he had been sentenced to life imprisonment.
An investigation by Le Monde diplomatique assured in 2005 that Saifi was not a true Islamist but an agent of the Algerian government who staged a false flag attack by kidnapping the tourists. The British writer Jeremy Keenan elaborated on this theory since 2006, speculating that the supposed presence of (false) Islamist terrorist elements in southern Algeria would allow the US to broaden their counterterrorist agreements with several Sahel countries.
- (French) Amari Saïfi dit Abderazzak le Para, algerie-dz.com, 19 May 2004
- Paris Match, Paris (5-11 August 2004). Cited in "El Para, the Maghreb's Bin Laden."
- Salima Mellah and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, "El Para, the Maghreb's Bin Laden." Le Monde Diplomatique (04/Feb/2005).
- Jim Fisher-Thompson, "U.S.-African Partnership Helps Counter Terrorists in Sahel Region," Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State (23 March 2004). Retrieved 25-02-2014.
- "Algerian rebel gets life sentence." BBC (25 June 2005).
- Jeremy Keenan: "The Collapse of the Second Front," Foreign Policy In Focus (September 26, 2006). Retrieved 25-02-2014.
- "Former leader of the GSPC, Hassan Hattab, placed in a safe place". Ennahar (Algiers). 9 March 2011. Retrieved 21 January 2013.