Khaled Nezzar was born on 25 December 1937 in Seriana, Algeria. He deserted the French Army in 1958 to join the National Liberation Front and to participate in the Algerian War of Independence.
After the independence in 1962, he occupied several positions in the Algerian Army. Named Chief of Land Forces in 1986, he was promoted to Chief of Staff and then Minister of Defence in 1990. In this position, he became the man of all decisions within the government. From 1992 until 1994, he was one of the members of the High Council of State (HCS), the military junta of five members which replaced the President. Nezzar was considered as one of the most powerful men of the regime in the beginning of the 1990s, whilst the “dirty war” was raging.
In January 1992, along with other members of the military, Nezzar allegedly staged a coup against the incumbent president Chadli Bendjedid. The army then proceeded to cancel the second round of legislative elections in order to prevent a likely victory by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a Muslim fundamentalist party which had won the first round of the elections.
From 1992 to 1994, as Minister of Defence and member of the HCS, Nezzar allegedly ordered, authorised and incited the military and public function agents to exercise acts of tortures, to commit murders, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other acts constituting grave violations of international humanitarian law. These crimes were mostly, but not exclusively, committed against FIS supporters. As soon as 1988, Nezzar was also allegedly responsible for ordering the army to shoot hundreds of protestors participating in popular riots.
Following an assassination attempt in 1994, Nezzar resigned from his official functions as Minister of Defence and Member of the High Council of State. It is estimated that the dirty war eventually caused the death of about 200’000 persons, the disappearance of 20’000 and the forced displacement of more than 1,5 million people.
On 20 October 2011, while in Switzerland, Nezzar was arrested by the police and interrogated by the Swiss Attorney General following a denunciation by TRIAL International and complaints by two victims of torture. He was released on 21 October 2011 under the condition of being present during subsequent proceedings.