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RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

IN ALGERIA

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Other essays in this series discuss government repression of religious groups. The situation in Algeria is different. Their government grants religious freedom to all faith groups. But some religious groups appear to be exterminating whole villages and attempting to destabilize the country. Almost all of the victims are fellow Muslims. At least one group has also targeted all non-Muslims for death.

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In 1991-92, a federal election was held in Algeria. The results of the first round of elections showed that the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) would win by a landslide. It was their intent to establish an Islamic State. The army took over the government of the country, annulled the election and created a military dictatorship. This triggered a period of unrest which has continued to the present time. The FIS was banned in 1992. It has since "splintered into different factions, some of them such as the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA), Salvation Islamic Army (AIS), and Armed Islamic Group (GIA) - advocating and using violence." (1)

President Liamine Zeraual won a general election in 1995-NOV, and again in 1996-JUN. (1) But the disturbances appear to be escalating.

The group(s) responsible for the killings have not  claimed responsibility for the killings. There are many theories:

bulletThe GIA announced that it intended to start a war of genocide to ethnically cleanse the country of all Jews, Christians, and Polytheists. During 1996 the GIA kidnapped and killed seven Roman Catholic monks, and murdered the Roman Catholic Bishop of Oran.
bulletInitially, most of the victims were government officials, soldiers, and foreigners. Journalists were also targeted: Zine Eddine Aliou Salah's name appeared on a death list issued by the Islamic Salvation Army (the military arm of the Islamic Salvation Front). He was shot on 1995-JAN, about the 24th journalist to be executed up to that time. (4) Between 1993 and 1996, nearly 60 journalists had been assasinated. Other journalists are apparently targeted by renegade security forces if they express anti-government sentiments. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) determined that "Algeria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists." (1) More recently, attacks on journalists have stopped. None were killed during 1997. The new victims are largely ordinary citizens killed in their own homes.Often an entire village is wiped out. Nobody is spared, not even pregnant women, children or infants. They are raped, hacked to death, burned alive, mutilated, and shot.
bulletThe US Department of State reported in 1997: "The security forces carried out extrajudicial killings, were responsible for numerous cases of disappearance, routinely tortured or otherwise abused detainees, and arbitrarily arrested and held incommunicado many of those suspected of involvement with armed Islamist groups...The Government also continued to restrict freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement...By year's end, most commonly accepted casualty estimates were that 60,000 people had been killed during 5 years of turmoil."(2)

"In the past three months [1997-JUN to AUG] at least 1,500 civilians have been killed, may in horrific ways: hacked to death, burned alive, disemboweled, [sic] their throats slit." (3)

bulletThe government blames Muslim rebels in general
bulletThe national newspapers blame the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) for the atrocities.
bulletThe FIS had blamed the government, claiming that their goal was to discredit the FIS. In late 1997, they started blaming the GIA.
bulletSome blame factions in the military who are opposed to the President.
bulletThe Observer, a British newspaper, announced on 1998-JAN-11 that some of the massacres were done by of the military's security force. They quoted two policemen who are seeking asylum in the UK. The latter stated that:
bulletspecial forces death squads disguised themselves as Muslim Fundamentalists and wiped out entire families
bulletthe government tortured its opponents
bulletthe government murdered journalists and entertainers.
bulletSome point out that many of the villages that have been attacked are located on rich farm land which was distributed to Algerians in an earlier land-reform program. Landowners and former land owners may be trying to make the areas uninhabitable in order to grab back the land.
bulletSome atrocities may be as a result of inter-village rivalry or feuds between rival Islamic guerrilla groups.

Most agree that the purpose of the slaughter is to destabilize the administration. The government opposition has called for an international investigation, but the government has permitted no independent examinations of the massacres. Even the press are not allowed free access to the towns where the killings have occurred. Mohammed Lamari, Algeria's ambassador to the European Union said that his nation needs support, not "harassment...What we are demanding from the international community, and especially from Europe, is solidarity in the fight against terrorism." (8)

The Algerian government continually predicts an early end to the conflict. In early 1995, they predicted that peace would come by 1996-JAN. In 1997-AUG, the authorities claim to have the situation under control and are "on the point of eradicating the country's terrorism." (3)

Kifi Annam, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said in 1997-AUG: "The killing has gone on far too long." He hopes to "find ways and means of encouraging the parties to cease violence." Abassi Madani leads the Islamic Salvation Front. He wrote the UN Secretary-General that he was "ready to call for an immediate halt to the bloodshed" as the first step leading to serious discussions. He has since been put under house arrest.

The Islamic Salvation Army, the group that started the bloody insurgency, has been negotiating with the government. They arranged for the release of two of their leaders in 1997-JUL. They have called for a cease-fire, effective 1997-OCT-1. They claim that recent slaughters were the work of "perverse extremists" of the Armed Islamic Group.

The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) appears to have issued a statement which stated "We are that band, with God's permission, who kill and slaughter and we will remain so until the word of religion has prevailed and the word of God is raised high. Let everyone know that what we do in killing and slaughter [sic] and burning and pillaging is close to God…We inform you according to our faith and our ways: no dialogue, no truce, no reconciliation." (7)

In 1997-SEP, the European Parliament said the: "brutal violence committed by terrorists" showed no signs of diminishing, even though Algeria has "the political and institutional means...to lead the country out of the spiral of violence."

The murders continue. The total body count now exceeds 60,000. One source estimates 75,000. From late 1996 to early 1998, there were 23 mass exterminations:

Date Number Killed Location
1996-NOV 5 31 Sidi el Kebit
1996-NOV 13 18 Medea province; 2 raids
1996-DEC-5 19 Ben Achour
1997-JAN-19 36 Sidi Abdelaziz
1997-APR-5 52 Hamlet in Medea province
1997-APR-22 93 Bougara area
1997-JUL-7 51 Algiers & Medea province
1997-JUL-13 44 Ksar el Boukhari
1997-AUG-2 80 South of Algiers; 2 hamlets
1997-AUG-5 100 Blida province
1997-AUG-22 64; 15 women kidnapped Souhane village
1997-AUG-26 100 Benni Ali area
1997-AUG-29 98; 120 wounded Sidi Rais
1997-SEP-5 49 Algiers
1997-SEP-18 53 Beni Slimane area
1997-SEP-23 200 Baraki district
1997-OCT-4 88 Various
1997-DEC-20 79 Various
1997-DEC-24 90 Various
1997-DEC-30 97; Holy month of Ramadan starts Sidi Bel Abbes province
1997-DEC-31 412 Relizane province
1998-JAN-6 Several hundred burned alive; 117 had their throats cut Relizane province
1998-JAN-11 11 killed; 1 wounded Bordj Okhris

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International Response

Claude Laverdure, a special envoy from the Canadian government held discussions with the Algerian government in 1998-JAN. Envoys from the Arab League were expected to arrive in Algiers on 1998-JAN-12 for discussions.

A mission from the European Union was scheduled to arrive on JAN-16. (9) However, the Algerian government initially refused to accept the delegation, which would have included officials from Britain, Austria and Luxembourg. The foreign office indicated that the delegation lacked seniority. The government had earlier agreed to the mission only if it did not investigate the massacres, but rather concentrate on what the EU could do to combat terrorism. The fact finding mission has been re-scheduled for the week of 1998-JAN-18; it will involve delegates at the ministerial level.

Even though the Algerian government warned members of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) to not speak publicly about the atrocities, their leaders have also called for an inquiry into the atrocities. They said: "The latest campaign is the collective extermination of innocent civilians in regions where a majority of the population had voted for FIS in December 1991 elections...Even if various means were used, we are convinced that the same people are behind these campaigns...FIS sees the need for a serious inquiry so that such misfortune does not happen again." Abdelkader Hachani, a leader of the FIS was detained by the police and later released.

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References

  1. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has an essay on Algeria at: http://www.digitalrag.com/cpj/safetynet/posts/468354.html
  2. The US Department of State published an " Algeria Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996" on 1997-HAN-30. See: http://www.usis.usemb.se/human/algeria.htm
  3. Editorial, The Economist, week of 1997-AUG-25
  4. Kim Reid, Correspondent Report, Voice of America, 1995-JAN-6. Available at: http://www.intac.com/PubService/human_rights/
  5. "Algeria's WWW Sites" has links to general information, educational, commercial, and personal sites. See: http://leb.net/~hajeri/algeria.html
  6. "Islamic Salvation Army Calls for Cease-fire in Algeria," Associated Press, 1997-SEP-24
  7. "Algerian massacre has 'blessing of God,' Guerrillas Say," Associated Press, 1997-SEP-26
  8. Marcus Gee, "World Treads Softly Around Algeria," Associated Press, 1998-JAN-7
  9. "Diplomats Set to Visit Algeria," Reuters News Agency, 1998-JAN-11

Copyright 2000 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2000-JUN-4
Author: B.A. Robinson

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