Guillotines add a barbaric touch to Algeria's bloodbath

Islamists are now dragging people from their homes and cutting off their heads, writes Robert Fisk

The Islamic Armed Group (GIA), the most violent of the Algerian regime's "Islamist" opponents, has been displaying a new machine in the suburbs of Algiers.

It is a primitive version of Madame La Guillotine, a makeshift head-cutter with an iron blade to which its victims are subjected after being dragged from their homes.

According to residents, the guillotine is mounted on a lorry. Those condemned to die by the GIA are taken from their apartments and, their mouths stuffed with newspaper, are guillotined on the truck before the vehicle is driven off in search of further "enemies of Islam".

Can any more horrors be visited upon the people of Algeria? As usual, the holy month of Ramadan has produced a new bloodbath in the villages and towns around the capital. The latest campaign of throat-cutting and car bombs has slaughtered as many innocents as the Secret Army Organisation (OAS) of disaffected "pieds noirs" killed in the last days of French rule in 1962.

In the villages of Beni Slieman, 57 civilians have been murdered - 49 of them worshippers in the mosque of Sidi Abdelaziz, hacked to death by 50 armed men who entered the building during evening prayers last Friday.

At Bouchrahil, five more were beheaded. Another 10 - the figure may be much higher - died on Wednesday evening when a car bomb exploded in a shopping area of Boufarik, wounding another 30, just after the ending of the Ramadan fast when residents emerged from their homes to buy food.

Even Iran and the Lebanese Hizbollah, who routinely refer to their "brothers" fighting the forces of the Algerian government, have been shocked by the latest atrocities. Who controls the GIA? Who stands to gain from the savagery now perpetrated daily in Algeria? The government, incredibly, has remained silent, to the fury of those privately owned newspapers which dare to criticise the regime. The Islamic Armed Group, the military wing of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) - the cancellation of whose certain win at 1992 elections provoked the civil war - claim that the authorities have infiltrated the GIA and have encouraged the carnage in order to discredit the opposition. The government blames "fundamentalist terrorism".

For ordinary Algerians and particularly those millions who live around Algiers itself (for Oran and other areas have been relatively free of such barbarism) daily life is one of continuous terror.

At least 23 civilians were killed - some estimates say 42 - in a booby- trapped car which exploded in the working-class Belcourt neighbourhood of Algiers. Ten more died when a bomb exploded next to a bus on the heights above the city, close to the monument commemorating the million Algerians who were killed in the 1954-62 war of independence against France. No more symbolic site could have been selected by the bombers.

Yet only two weeks ago, government ministers were yet again claiming that they were confronting only "residual terrorism". In a rare act of courage, the daily Le Matin accused the authorities of "the offence of silence". The government, it said, "should speak to the people now, at this moment of mourning ... to reassure them, to share in their agony". Liberte asked how the bombings could take place after the security forces had announced so many "victories" against their armed opponents. "Where are all these bombs coming from? How can they be made with such ease? Who are the master-minds?"

The Algerian Prime Minister stated two months ago that 80,000 Algerians had died in the war. The FIS claims the figure is 120,000. The government, however, remains silent.

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