Muslims tell French to get out of Algeria: Fundamentalist group issues 'one month' ultimatum

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The Independent Online
THE MUSLIM fundamentalist kidnappers of three French consular officials in Algeria, released at the weekend, have given French residents one month to leave the country.

The conservative Figaro newspaper said that a handwritten message handed to Michele Thevenot, freed in front of the home of Henri Teissier, the Catholic archbishop of Algiers, on Sunday, said French nationals should leave within a month. The newspaper said the Algerian authorities also received a video cassette from the kidnappers showing the hostages and telling all foreigners, not just the French, to get out.

The release of the hostages is seen in Paris as only a respite in a probably lengthy conflict with Muslim fundamentalism.

Since 21 September, seven foreigners have been killed after their capture by fundamentalists. According to Le Canard Enchaine, the satirical and investigative weekly, French intelligence services were told that two Russian military advisers were tortured in public before being killed. The fear is that French nationals may be a special category because of France's colonial past.

The abduction of the three officials by the hardline Armed Islamic Group (AIG) seemed to denote a new policy of attacking the French government directly.

The AIG is opposed to the dialogue between the Algerian government and the FIS, better-known as the Islamic Salvation Front.

Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, a Saudi newspaper, and some sources in Paris said the AIG was heavily infiltrated by the Algerian security services. These sources went as far as to imply that Algerian officials may have been involved in the abduction. The Saudi newspaper said Algerian officials knew in advance that the release of the first two hostages 'would take place on Saturday at a predetermined time'.

The two male hostages, Jean-Claude Thevenot, Mrs Thevenot's husband, and Alain Freissier, were released on Saturday after security commandos, nicknamed 'Ninja Turtles', stormed their hideout in Algiers. Mrs Thevenot was freed separately the next day. They had been abducted a week earlier.

According to an Algerian Interior Ministry statement, four kidnappers were killed in the shooting that led to the release of the two men, one was arrested and four others were on the run.

Earlier accounts said seven were killed. Some Algerian press reports, however, said no one was hurt in the operation. The ex-hostages gave no details of their abduction beyond saying that they were well treated.

The Algerian Interior Ministry has since said another 28 rebels were killed in battles with security forces this week.

Altogether some 25,000 French expatriates are registered in Algeria. Almost twice as many more, often people with dual Algerian-French nationality, are also thought to live in Algeria.