Algeria newsletter - January/February 2001

ACCUSATIONS BY AN ALGERIAN EX-OFFICER (from preface by Ferdinando Imposimato to 'La sale guerre' )

"The dirty war - The testimony of an ex-officer of the special branch of the Algerian army (1992-2000)" was published in France on 8 February. Habib Souaïdia fled from Algeria to France in the summer of 2000 after being sentenced to four years in an army prison on theft charges which he says were trumped up. He writes: 'When I enlisted into the Algerian army in 1989, I was miles away from thinking that I would be a witness to the tragedy that has struck my country. I have seen colleagues burn alive a 15-year-old child. I have seen soldiers disguising themselves as terrorists and massacring civilians. I have seen colonels kill mere suspects in cold blood. I have seen officers torture fundamentalists to death. I have seen too many things and so many attacks on human dignity that I am unable to keep quiet. These are sufficient reasons, I am sure, for breaking the wall of silence.'

Reactions in France

On the day it was published, a group of 10 French and North African intellectuals published an open letter in Le Monde demanding an international commission of inquiry into the violence in Algeria and asking the French government to change its policy of unquestioning support for the Algerian government.

(AFP, Reuters 13.2, 14.2, Le Monde 15.2) There are also influential groups and people who, whilst not denying the importance of the accusations contained in "The dirty war", believe that it should not induce a change in the French (and European Union) policy towards Algeria. The French foreign minister stated that cooperation between France and Algeria is "a strategic choice".

(AFP 13.2) The French Communist Party stated that if the accusations levelled by Habib Souaïdia turn out to be true then those responsible for the crimes should be brought to justice. However, one should not hide the responsibilities of the Islamic fundamentalists in the massacres.

Reactions in Algeria

Alleged intimidation of the family of Habib Souaïdia (José Garçon, Libération 12 Feb). Less than 48 hours after the publication of the book, the first harassment of the family of Habib Souaïdia started: the video-rental shop run by his brother was completely gutted and ransacked during the night of 9-10 February. Rather peculiar visitors had knocked at his brother's home on Wednesday and Thursday and security forces had comprehensively searched the entire section of the city.

Habib Souaïdia is not a credible individual

(Le Parisien 12.2, AFP 13.2, 15.2, Le Matin 14.2, Liberté, Le Quotidien d'Oran 15.2) The Ambassador of Algeria in France, Mohamed Ghoualmi, has described the book by Habib Souaïdia as a "fake" that is nothing more than a synthesis of what has already been written in the French press. Meanwhile in Algeria, The national organisation for the victims of terrorism has denounced in a press release the "opportunistic voices of those who continue to have intellectual discussions on "who is killing who?" while living comfortably overseas and waiting to install themselves as the government of the country.

(CSSI, AFP, 17.2, 18.2, Le Matin 18.2, El Watan 19.2, Algeria Interface) Many attacks against "The dirty war", its author Habib Souaïdia and editor François Gèze have appeared in the Algerian media.

(Jean-Pierre Tuquoi, Le Monde, 27 February 2001) - 'La sale guerre' has induced a reaction written by General Mohamed Lamari, the Algerian army's Chief of Staff. The general writes of a delirious campaign by the media that has been influenced by foreign interests. He says it is devoid of any objectivity and originality and is without any literary or documentary value. Souaïdia is painted as an individual who has abused his rank, a thief who has been court martialled and expelled from the army


Reported massacres during January and February include:

  • 12 people killed at a false roadblock near Khemis Miliana by an armed group in military uniform - five of the victims were probably burned alive (Le Matin 18 Jan);

  • 24 people, shepherds and their families, including two 70-year olds, killed in a hamlet in the Massif of Dahra (AFP and Reuters 19 Jan);

  • 24 people from two families killed with knives - two young women were raped beforehand - in the region of Chlef (Le Matin 29 Jan);

  • 27 people, including 12 women and 12 children, killed 10 Feb, near Medea (El Watan 12 Feb);

  • 13 members of an armed group killed near Chlef (EW 24 Feb).

According to press reports, at least 300 people were killed between 1 Jan and 15 Feb (AP)

47 dissident officers, detained primarily for ‘insubordination’, in an isolated wing of Boughar prison between Medea and Ksar el-Boukhari, are reported by MAOL, a movement of dissident officers, to have been massacred by a military security commando while they were completing their sentence (Libération 27 Feb).

What happened to a 'disappeared' journalist?

(Jeune Indépendant & AP 20 Jan, Quot d'Oran 16 Jan)

During the mission of Reporters sans frontières to Algeria from 14 to 19 January, Le Matin announced that a mass grave contained the remains of a 'disappeared' journalist, Djamil Fahassi. The question for the distraught wife Safia Fahassi, and for Maitre Mahmoud Khelili the lawyer for the families of the 'disappeared', was - who was responsible for this information? Why is it being spread about? Is Djamil dead? M Meynard, the Secretary General of RSF, deplored the climate of fear that accompanied the mission, the lack of contact with the authorities and the lack of interest of the Algerian press concerning their 'disappeared' colleagues.


(see also 'Highlights 6/00)

(Baudoin Loos, Le Soir 10 Jan and Le Matin 9 Jan)

Four Russians, working for a phosphate company near Annaba, were killed when they went looking for mushrooms. This was the first time foreigners had been targeted in four years and four months. Baudoin Loos says that the Algerian francophone press offers a variety of explanations for the increase in violence since December:

  • Le Matin ascribes it to the failure of President Bouteflika's 'concorde civile' and to his efforts to present Algeria as a country where foreigners can circulate freely;

  • El Moujahid, controlled by Bouteflika, castigated those monopolies and traffickers who have no other means of maintaining their privileges except through violence and who try to spread the idea within the international community that Algeria is unstable;

  • Le Jeune Indépendant wrote that the victims of terrorism, and the majority of Algerians, are just bit-players in what is going on between the presidence and the army;

  • El Watan says that there is no real wish to finish off the armed Islamists, which is linked to the contradictions between the clans in power - the stakes are enormous. Which of the two camps (Bouta or the other 'deciders') will benefit from privatisations and who will lay their hands on Sonatrach (the Algerian oil and gas corporation)? Who will monopolise the agricultural land? This is why dozens of Algerians die every month…

An ex-police officer complains (Algeria Watch)

Mohamed Rebaï, complains that he was kidnapped in 1995, tortured and detained for more than 20 months for having 'put his nose' into a motor-car dealing affair in which senior police and civilians were implicated. He was finally acquitted of 'fantasy' charges (complicity with 'terrorists').


Political leaders within the coalition government continued to criticise Bouteflika's ‘cavalier seule’ policy. The leader of the RCD evoked the possibility of an ‘institutional crisis’, while the leader of the FLN castigated a president who has not consulted them for 20 months. The harshest criticism came from Ahmed Ouyahia, Minister of the Interior. All this seems to be a reaction to a comment by the President that those in the parties are only thinking about the posts that they may occupy.

However, an editorialist of Le Quotidien d’Oran believes that the political confusion is caused by ‘a conflict at the top it is clear somebody wants him to resign'.

Responses to the criticism; crackdown on the press? (Quot d'Oran 13 Jan)

Bouteflika broke his silence in the face of criticism of the 'concorde civile'. He said that his policy had been a success, but emphasised he would 'strike with an iron hand, in the name of Islam and nationalism' the actions led by 'terrorists'.

(Libération 1 March)

Ahmed Ouyahia, the Minister of the Interior, announced a new penal code. This, according to Le Quotidien d'Oran, means that from now on ‘we shall not be able to say anything about our leaders. One will not even be able to write that Bouta is Bouta; we shall not be able to speak about him, nor about the generals, nor about ministers...' The new code confirms that the regime intends on one side to tighten up on the political and media scene, and on the other to allow a certain indulgence towards financial crimes. The real question is whether this is the strategy of the regime as a whole, or just of Bouteflika. Earlier, in a joint declaration (18 Jan), the editors of 17 Algerian newspapers had warned of the threat to freedom of expression.


(Florence Aubenas & José Garçon, Lib 26 Jan)

The area of violence is continually being enlarged. Near Jijel, east of Algiers, there is a secure zone, where nobody may go except the army and the Islamists, who according to various witnesses, live in a strange cohabitation. The security forces close their eyes to the Islamists who demand 2 000 dinars from a family, while not allowing them to increase the size of their territory: they thus allow a certain level of violence that they can control.

Whereas many of the armed groups behave like bandits, the GSPC of Hassan Hattab is well organised, attacks the military but says that it refuses to attack what it calls ‘innocent civilians’, and has enlarged its territory beyond Kabylie westwards to Boumerdes.

The reorganisation of the armed groups is not explicable except in terms of the struggles between the clans at the top of the power structure.

What did an ex-Emir of the GIA say and do?

(Le Monde 19, Libération 20 Feb)

The publication of an interview with Omar Chiki, an ex-emir of the GIA, undertaken in May 1999 for a Saudi London newspaper and only produced on14 Jan 2001, sparked off debates in Algeria. Today a repentant, he recalls the assassination of seven monks in 1996 and admits, without regrets, assassinating journalists. The lack of impunity for authors of killings may be behind his now denying such crimes, but there is nothing accidental in the decision to publish this now: it comes after the publication of ‘La sale guerre’, and shows – contrary to what Boueflika says - that there are assassins who have benefitted from the ‘concorde civile’.


Three French ministers visit Algeria

(The Irish Times 13 Feb, Le Figaro 13 Feb)

The visits took place within three weeks. The French Interior Minister said that French assistance was “much appreciated” in the fight against “money-laundering and other mafia-like practices” and announced that France will train Algerians “in modern crime-fighting and civil security techniques”. Lara Marlowe writes that “it seems to have escaped the French Minister’s attention that the chief mafiosi are the Algerian generals.” President Bouteflika wishes to encourage more economic cooperation with Paris; M Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, underlined the desire of his government to encourage French companies to set up in Algeria.

The European Union

(Le Jeune Indépendant 20 Jan, Le Matin, 14 Feb, Irish Times 13 Feb)

The European Parliament adopted a resolution inviting the Algerian government to cooperate with the United Nations in order to elucidate the cases of ‘disappearance’.

Negotiations have continued between Algeria and the European Union with the intention of signing an Association Agreement by the end of 2001. Three financial conventions totalling 30 million euros (nearly $32 m) have been signed, including 8 m euros to assist in "international cooperation in the anti-terrorist struggle", which Lara Marlowe says "was attributed 'almost on the sly', without the stipulation that human rights be respected".


(El Watan 7, 12 & 28 Jan; El Moudjahid 11 Feb, EW 5 & 6 Feb, Liberté 15 Feb))

  • Birthrate halved between 1970 and 1998;

  • A woman is attacked every 12 minutes in the wilaya of Oran;

  • 12 million people (40.2 %) are living below the poverty threshold;

  • There is an 'alarming' deterioration in the social and sanitary situation in Algiers;

  • More than 185 000 people have moved out of the wilaya of Medea because of violence;

  • Milk costs 25% more from 15 Feb: the poorest will be most affected;

  • One third of the working population is employed in the informal sector;

  • Cereal production went down by half in 2000 compared with 1999

Algeria newsletter - Disclaimer

This document is produced from the perusal of a number of web sites and newspapers; acknowledgement is particularly made to material from Pascal Holenweg (, Algeria Watch and Algeria Interface. It is designed as background for a number of groups working on behalf of Amnesty International. It does not claim to be in any way comprehensive of news emanating from Algeria, nor does it claim to be free from inacurracies in translation.

Amnesty International works within a closely defined mandate, on behalf of prisoners of conscience, against the death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners and to end extrajudicial executions and ‘disappearances’. It does not take views concerning the politics of any country: the political views expressed in this newsletter are those of the journalists and in no way represent any Amnesty International view.

News appearing in the Algerian media relating to security matters, and from which international reports are mostly derived, is subject to control by the Algerian authorities.