Last assignment in mean streets of the Casbah: Yesterday morning Olivier Quemener gave Robert Fisk a cheerful 'bonjour' before setting off to visit an area of Algiers where policemen fear to tread. A few hours later he was shot dead.

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THE ALGERIAN war claimed the life of its first foreign journalist yesterday when two gunmen murdered a French television cameraman and critically wounded an Australian reporter with him in the old Casbah district of Algiers.

The Casbah, with its steep, narrow streets, its poverty and angry Islamic revival, is one of the most dangerous as well as the most picturesque locations in Algiers. Scores of policemen have been assassinated in its narrow laneways over the past two years and the taxi driver who took Olivier Quemener on his last assignment says that he pleaded with the two journalists not to enter the Casbah.

Algerians in the Casbah gave a terrifying description of the attack. Quemener, 34, a freelance cameraman working for Australian television, was hit by a bullet in the chest at close range and died immediately. He fell to the ground in front of Scott Allan White, 35, who was then shot in the back of the head.

One witness said that the Australian, although terribly wounded, lay conscious on the ground, weeping beside his dead friend. A doctor at the Casbah hospital said his wound needed immediate surgery.

Western journalists in Algeria, like those covering all wars, make easy, inviting targets. Without these foreign correspondents, the world would have known little of the desert prison camps in which thousands of Islamic Salvation Front supporters are imprisoned.

For this they have been savagely rewarded. Asked why a journalist should have been murdered, a well-known FIS sympathiser told me: 'There are several groups and some of them do things that are incomprehensible.' This was said with passion but without any gesture of remorse.

There are at least two armed Islamic groups active in Algeria, one of which has been specifically instructed to kill any foreigners.

Mr Quemener, a tough and experienced cameraman, was the 28th Westerner to die in the past four months. He arrived in Algeria last week to cover the abortive 'national unity conference' and subsequent installation of General Mohamed Zeroual as President - whose message of hope may have been the assassins' real target.

A tall man with clear blue eyes and short black hair, he was in high spirits when I travelled back to Algiers with him on Monday from Zeralda, mischievously responding to my wicked suggestion that photographers were 'snappers'. 'So have you British folk decided to interest yourselves in Algeria at last?' he asked.

I saw him yesterday morning when he gave me a cheerful bonjour on his way out of the El- Djezair hotel, the old French St Georges, which is the favourite hostelry of the French press corps.

The Algerian taxi driver who took him to the Casbah could be found crying in the forecourt of the hotel yesterday afternoon.

He had tried to dissuade the two journalists from entering the Casbah and then - when they insisted - told them to stay no more than half an hour. They had been in the area for two and a half hours, he said, when they were shot.

The Casbah is a much brutalised place, a centre of nationalist resistance to French rule during the 1954-62 war and, most recently, a focus for Islamic opposition to the Algerian government. Policemen will no longer venture into its streets.

Last year, French-trained Algerian paratroopers attacked a house in the Casbah with rocket-propelled grenades. When I reached the scene, I discovered that everyone in the building had been burnt to death.

While this may provide a social background to yesterday's tragedy, it is, of course, no excuse for the murder of a journalist who was just doing his dangerous and often lonely job.

Watching for death, page 12