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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral