Hundreds die in Algerian slaughter

Robert Fisk warns that the worst may be yet to come for a country torn apart

The slaughter of perhaps another 400 villagers in 24 hours puts the Algerian war on a Bosnian scale - but nothing, it seems, can match Algeria for animal savagery. The disembowelling of young women, the throat- slashing of babies, the mutilation of old men and women, the abduction into forced marriage of hundreds of young girls - all supposedly done in the name of Islam prompts an obvious question: can the Algerian war plumb further depths of horror?

The only correspondent to reach the scene of the latest and apparently worst-ever slaughter, at Sidi Moussa, only seven miles from Algiers itself, reported seeing dozens of corpses stacked in the fields and covered with blankets; arms and legs poking from beneath their covering.

Was it the work of the "Islamic Armed Group" (GIA) as the government will claim - a military-backed government, by the way, whose President, Liamine Zeroual, insisted only this week that "terrorism was in its death throes" - or was it a faction of the GIA infiltrated by government agents, as regularly alleged by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) who were set to win democratic elections until they were annulled by the government.

Last time I was in Algiers, I could hear the Algerian army bombarding the armed "Islamists" in Sidi Moussa with artillery and helicopter gunships. So how come it has been the scene of the worst atrocity of the war by those same rebels?

The Algerian government stated that the attackers shot, cut the throats and burned alive 98 villagers, wounding another 120. But civilians fleeing the area talked of well over 300 slaughtered. One survivor said that 20 young women were taken for "temporary marriage" (the Islamists' phrase for what is no more than rape) by the killers.

He stated that the gunmen - up to 300 of them descended on Sidi Moussa - split into groups of 10 before they attacked, using shotguns, knives and axes for their butchery. Whatever their true identity, there must be psychopaths among them. Indeed, GIA statements speak of the "Islamic" necessity of killing the whole families of government supporters or so- called "village guards" (whose enrolment by the government set off the tide of massacres.) Every member of such a family was an enemy, whatever their age, according to the GIA.

Not a single Islamic scholar has, would or could ever support such dreadful words, but the idea that whole families should suffer for the alleged misdeeds of others is something common to the worst days of Stalin, when entire ethnic groups - men, women, children, babies - were slaughtered or deported to certain death in the wastelands of the Soviet Union. And it was under the inspiration of the Soviets that the soldiers of the National Liberation Front, who won their war of independence against France in 1962, ran Algeria in its early years.

Did their children, one wonders, imbibe some of the ideological barbarity of the ruthless old Soviet system (even though Stalin was dead) and mix them with an uncompromising interpretation of Islam taught by the uneducated village boys who now call themselves "emirs"? If this is true, then the answer is yes, the Algerian war could grow more terrible still.

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