Algerian Islamists admit to killings

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The extremist Algerian Armed Islamic Group has claimed responsibility for the assassinations last week of two 'crusaders', a French nun and a French priest. It said their murders were part of the group's campaign against 'Jews, Christians and miscreants'.

The group, known by its French initials GIA, issued a statement over the weekend saying it had ordered the shooting of Sister Paule- Helene Raymond, 66, and Father Henri Verges, 64, who ran a library in the Algiers Casbah. Both had lived in Algeria since the late 1960s.

Muslim religious leaders were quick to condemn the murders. The deaths brought to 10 the number of French nationals killed in Algeria since last September. After the killings the French government issued its strongest appeal yet for French residents to leave Algeria. Another 24 foreigners have been killed in the same period. Last October, the GIA gave foreigners a month in which to leave the country or become targets in retaliation for foreign support of Algeria's military government.

The GIA, in its weekly bulletin addressed to the Algerian press, said: 'Within the framework of the policy of liquidation of Jews, Christians and miscreants from the Muslim land of Algeria, a GIA brigade organised an ambush in which it killed two crusaders who had passed long years propagating evil in Algeria.'

Another murder reported over the weekend was that of Laid Grine, 49, a lawyer and the leader of the Arab-Islamic Party. He had been abducted the previous day from his house at Bordj el-Mokhfi, east of Algiers. Grine, who was found with his throat cut on Saturday, had obtained the acquittal of an alleged Islamic militant at a hearing of the Special Court, set up to deal with the upsurge of Islamic rebellion, last Wednesday. There has been no official reponse to his kidnapping and murder.

The Algerian conflict has become a civil war largely carried out by death squads. Islamic militants have accused pro-government groups of organising their own revenge executions of militants or of killing foreigners to discredit the fundamentalist movement.