Algerian killings hit 'oasis of peace'

BY ROBERT FISK

Middle East Correspondent

The victims' nationalities must have pleased their killers - a Briton, two Frenchmen and a Canadian would have satisfied their desire to strike at the "Crusader" nations whom the "Islamists" have declared to be their enemies. The murder, too, of the westerners' Tunisian colleague and their Algerian security guard would have ensured that Arabs remained under no illusions about the aims of the Islamic Armed Group (GIA).

Anyone who works for the Algerian government is a target and yesterday, in the sleepy old Foreign Legion town of Ghardaia, the GIA proved it again.

According to Algerian press agency reports, gunmen broke into the heavily- guarded factory where the foreigners worked and coldly shot them down with rifle fire. All were working on an irrigation pipe project when the Islamists arrived, murdering the officer in charge of the armed military escort before turning their weapons on the foreigners.

The Briton's name was Alan Wilson. The official Algerian Press Service said that Jim McGarry, a Canadian, Franois Machabert and Jean-Claude Cordjon, both French, and Mustapha Zemirli, a Tunisian, were also killed. Mr McGarry and Mr Wilson both lived in Edinburgh.

Reports that four more troops were wounded in what the agency described as an "assault" suggests that a gun battle preceded the murders and that the Algerian security men fought hard against their attackers at the Anabib pipe factory, a nationalised concern. The Algerians have been trying to coax foreign firms into new investments over the past six months in an attempt to cut the country's massive foreign debt.

Only two months ago, the Algerians were inviting foreign journalists to spend a quiet day at Ghardaia. A tourist resort 500 miles south of Algiers, it was the kind of place where no foreigner would be harmed, a refuge from the violence in the north.

Yesterday even that fragile security disappeared. Quite apart from the personal tragedy to the families of the victims, it was a savage blow to the Algerian government. Still boasting of the army's victory over its armed Muslim opponents at Ein Delfa last March - in which up to 3,000 Islamists are said to have been killed - President Liamine Zeroual's cabinet could not have expected its enemies to strike at the soft underbelly of the country's economy where Algeria's oil, gas and water industries lay comparatively untouched by the war that has killed up to 40,000.

No doubt realising that the country's energy reserves would be the mainstay of Algeria's economy after an Islamist take-over, the armed groups have so far left gas and oil installations alone. The Algerian army and police placed dozens of guards on foreigners working in the industry but hoped that Ghardaia and other southern towns would be exempt from the war along the coastal plain.

The French government has once more urged its citizens to leave Algeria. A foreign ministry spokesman in Paris condemned what he called "this criminal act" and demanded that the Algerian authorities make available all information on the murders to the government in Paris.

Just 24 hours earlier, the Algerians announced the killing of five leaders of the Islamist groups in further fighting - proof, they hoped, of the army's continued success against its Muslim enemies.

Mr Wilson was the second Briton to be killed in Algeria - the first was murdered last year after stopping his car at a country petrol station - and brings to 80 the number of foreigners killed since September 1993, the largest number being from France.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum