Algerians braced for new wave of terror

Islamist rebels raise stakes in fight to topple government. Robert Fisk reports

Algerians are facing 58 very bloody days. They know the statistics all too well because - exactly two months before last year's constitutional referendum - the country's armed Islamists went on an orgy of killing in the villages outside Algiers. Now, two months before the parliamentary elections - in which the largest opposition party, the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), cannot run - the slaughter has begun again.

Last week, the FIS, which was declared illegal after its success in 1991 elections, urged voters to boycott the polling booths on 5 June. And that, as one Algerian journalist commented coldly, convinced many that blood would soon run again.

They were right. As the death toll in the latest and most obscene of Algeria's civil war bloodbaths climbed to 84 after the mass killings south of Algiers, there is a mood of chilling indifference in the streets of the capital. The daily newspapers are not short of details: at least 15 men, women and children decapitated in the village of Amroussa, some with chainsaws; another 52, including more women and children, left with their throats cut or doused in petrol and left to burn to death, in Thalit; more dead in Harbil, Bouira and Sidi Naamane. In Algiers, however, the talk is all about the "100 terrorists" killed by security forces in the great mountain battles outside Tizi Ouzou.

It is a mirage unlikely to last. How many times has the government told the people that the "war against terrorism" is almost won, that the last "terrorists" - official nomenclature for members of the Islamic Armed Group (GIA) - are putting up a last effort before liquidation?

Many of those killed in the weekend slaughters were relatives of the the so-called self-defence units which the government has armed in the countryside to fight the guerrillas. Yet again, therefore, their wives and children and parents are paying the price for their allegiance to the "pouvoir".

According to some reports, the Islamists staged a false attack to draw pro-government militiamen out of their villages - leaving their loved ones at the mercy of the killers. Only one local Algerian reporter, from the daily Liberte, reached the site of a massacre - at Amroussa - where survivors told him that Antar Zouabri, who took over the leadership of the GIA when Jamal Zeitouni was killed last July, personally led the attack.

True, the army and air force are continuing their campaign against the guerrillas in the Kabylie mountains; hence the stories of "100 terrorists" killed. But despite the use of armour and helicopter gunships, the military has apparently still not been able to penetrate all of the densely forested gorges of the mountains where the GIA has defended itself with mines and booby-traps. And the FIS is still claiming that the GIA has been infiltrated by the government and that the dreadful deeds done in the name of Islam are in part perpetrated by the authorities in an attempt to turn the people against the guerrillas.

This explanation fails to address the fact that each new atrocity saps government credibility - why would Algeria's military intelligence service wish to destroy the claim by its own generals that they can crush "terrorism"? But it also remains a fact that remarkably few Algerian reporters have been able to visit the scenes of such horror to investigate the incidents. No journalist, it seems, has reached Thalit, Harbil or Sidi Naamane. Thalit, indeed, is barely a village, a mere collection of semi-derelict houses in the countryside that now have - if the figures are to be believed - scarcely a single surviving inhabitant.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
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

English Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: [ Megan Smith 22/09/2014 17:00:...

Foundation and KS1 Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Foundation and Key Stage 1...

Geography Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Temporary Teacher of GEOGRAPHY ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments