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A people in agony: Survivors tell of the horrors of Algeria’s civil war

October 1997: Robert Fisk visits the site of a deadly civil war and hears stories of women and children being murdered

Saturday 04 December 2021 21:30
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<p>A woman, right, prays on the grave of her son and grandson  killed during the massacre of Rais in 1997</p>

A woman, right, prays on the grave of her son and grandson killed during the massacre of Rais in 1997

Amid the ruins of their burnt-out homes, the survivors of Algeria’s civil war massacres have been describing the slaughter of hundreds of women and babies in the countryside south of Algiers. Many of the hamlets are now Bosnian-styled ghost towns of crumbling walls and collapsed roofs.

From the roof of Ali’s house, you can see the local army barracks just a third of a mile across the fields, yellow-painted with a green and white Algerian flag fluttering gaily from the roof. No, Ali says, he doesn’t know why the soldiers did not intervene when the murderers turned up – 60 of them, he says, dressed in Afghan robes and hats – to cut the throats of his family. Round the side of Ali’s neck, there is a ferocious purple scar that slices through his skin, crudely stitched – because they cut Ali’s throat too.

“There were up to 100 men who came into our village from three directions – they were here for at least three hours,” he said his head leaning at an odd, permanent angle to the right. “There was shooting and screaming. No one helped us.”

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