The Seddat massacre: chemical weapons in the anti-terrorist struggle
Algeria-Watch, 31 May 2006
According to witnesses, on the 9th of May, 2006, the Algerian army used toxic gas as part of the final assault on a cave in the Seddat area.
Algeria has fully entered into the security strategy of the United States in the Sahel and Mediterranean regions. Considered after the September 11 attacks as a “key partner” in the “global war against terror”, Algeria has convinced the West with its army’s “success” against terrorism.
This is surprising considering that the Algerian army weren’t able – or rather didn’t want – to track down the cut-throats who committed the terrible massacres of 1997 and 1998 in the Algerian ports, the most dense military zone in the country. The role attributed to Algeria in the projects of American hegemony does not explain this indulgent attitude towards the abominable crimes committed by the institution of the Algerian military in the name of the fight against terrorism, as is ingeniously made understood by the newspaper L’Evenement “for Washington … there is the fact of surveillance, controlling, day and night and if necessary, intercepting and putting out of harm’s way, all danger that could affect the United States or its interests, and which comes from the Mediterranean or from the group in Sahel. For these two missions, Algeria today seems to enjoy total American confidence.”1
The manipulation of terrorism for a strategic Algerian power alliance with the United States
As far as human rights are concerned, it is true to say that the US does not lead the way. And in this respect, the interests of the two countries intersect or match up. Algeria is a regular participant in military maneuvers organized by the US, Algerian officers are regularly sent on training, the two countries have exchanged important military delegations and there is still the question – even though it is refuted by the authorities in the two countries – of the presence of several hundred American soldiers on a base in the south of Algeria.
From the Algerian side, it is said that “Algeria, who alone has experienced more than a decade of terrorist violence, has now accumulated an acknowledged experience which can help both itself and other countries including the United States.”2
However, if the Algerian army is collecting brownie points in its fight against terror, it must prove this. Despite all the military offences of previous years, despite the 1999 law on “civil agreement” and despite the “Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation” of 2005, the number of members of the armed men in the bush is not declining. For years, there has been the question of “some hundreds of terrorists” that are still active. The “last pockets” seem to be inexorably forming into armed groups. Yet, during the heaviest civilian massacres of 1997-1998, the Algerian authorities still referred to the “last motions” or the “last quarter” of terrorism and the wiping out of GIA (Armed Islamic Group) who were accused of the massacres. Let us not forget that at that time, the military command was leading a ruthless war against the presidential clan. And when suddenly, the then-president Zeroual announced his intention to resign, GIA were practically not mentioned again.
When Algeria became a part of American global strategy, the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) appeared. This group (created in 1998) gained international status with the hostage taking of European tourists at the start of 2003. Surprisingly, a local Kabyle organization emerged from the Sahara, a location that is reputably hostile to those who are not from there. Rapidly, the links between GSPC and the nebulous Al-Qaeda were considered as established, and on top of this, networks with links to GSPC were regularly broken in Europe. To cite just a few examples: the planned attacks in Strasbourg in 2000, the supposed “Chechen links” in 2001 and 2002, “the Ricine case” in Great Britain in 2002 3 and the case of a network accused of planning attacks in Orly, in the Paris metro and against the headquarters of the DST (French Intelligence Corps) in 2005. Curiously, every time that these terrorist acts linked to GSPC are examined more closely, what appears is the manipulation of DRS agents and the Algerian secret service – as had been the case with the 1995 GIA attacks in France.
As for terrorism in Algeria, the manipulation of Algerian secret service agents is well known, and innumerable witnesses can attest to the DRS’s control of numerous GIA groups, especially towards the end of 1994 (and the implication of these groups, on the instigation of the heads of the DRS – notably those of the CTRI in Blida – in massacres, in particular those in 1997-1998.)4 For many observers, the infiltration and manipulation by the DRS of the GSPC is also equally understood. 5
This does not mean however, that there are not active, armed groups in the bush, but their strike force is certainly less than the official propaganda wants us to believe. And especially, how can one believe the highly improbable fable that has been elaborated for years by “correspondents” of the DRS in the Algerian press, who say that the security forces comprising thousands, are incapable of overcoming some tens (or hundreds) of “the armed resistance” in perdition as they are active in “impenetrable forests” – forests that the Algerian army knows how to destroy with napalm when it judges necessary – or in the poorly controlled “Saharan zones”, even though these areas are very easy to survey from the air.
It is certain however, that this “residue of terrorism” is very useful to the Algerian powers in attracting the good graces of the West, by being seen to confront, in the name of the anti-terror fight in the role of the regional police, integrated into the US (and European) military strategy in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean, aiming to curb the migratory flux from the South and controlling these regions rich in hydrocarbon and likely to be a site of great contention in the future. And the “residual” terrorism is equally useful in justifying a state of emergency and anti-liberty laws: thus enabling the criminalization of both union opposition and the rioting that has affected the country for several years, all this while billions of petrol dollars are wasted on white elephants, and are embezzled by controlled circles of correction, for the principal profit of the Algerian generals.
The murder in the cave in Seddat: contradictions and manipulations
It’s in this context that news published by the Algerian daily press from March to May 2006 must be read. According to them, the army led “one of the most important (operations) which will be written into the history of the war against terror”6 in the mountains of Seddat in Jijel province. One learns therefore that, circling the opening of a cave, where the terrorists had been hiding for more than 50 days, a first assault at “15 hundred hours” was taken against the cave, “from Tuesday afternoon (9th May) to dawn, Wednesday (10th May)”, ending with the death of numerous “terrorists” including women and children.7 In the days that followed, one returns to the different number of presumed terrorist (from 10 to 50), according to sources, the majority of journalists include women and children in the category of “terrorists”.
In this event, the Algerian newspapers (French and Arabic) once again play the role of relaying “security information” without troubling with contradictions and the implausible. In this case as in so many others, to actually decipher the press, one must not forget the very long tradition of misinformation from the DRS, which goes back to MALG (Ministry of Armament and General Liaison) in the war of liberation (ancestors of the military security created in 1962, rebaptised DRS in September 1990). The “news” always has one niggling element of truth (the occurrence here of the massacre of women and children), which is difficult to mask fully but which is a travesty of different lies, and preferred contradictions, done in a way to install doubt, confusion and to “dissolve” the truth. This strategy has worked very effectively since 1992, to cover up the barbaric “dirty war” led by the DRS and ANP generals.
This mechanism is in evidence in this new incident as seen when the Algerian journalists simply cite “security sources” with whom they are complicit (none of the journalists had evidently led a real enquiry on-site, but such an enquiry would also not be allowed). According to “sources”, the assault on the cave in Seddat was the result of a vast offensive, announced with great pomp and circumstance at the end of March 2006, “meticulously prepared by the operational military command of the province and with detailed investigations.”8
The assault followed the explosion of a home-made bomb which injured six military personnel operating in the Seddat mountains.9 There is then the question of the presence in the area of this group who were “affiliated with zone 6 of the GSPC, including between 80 and 100 terrorists, led by Abou Omeir Mustapha”.10 This is why there was “this vast operation necessitated the mobilization of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of patriots, supported by airplane units and an armada of engines.” 11
What does one find at the end of “this operation, rigorously studied according to one of the most strategic plans of attack, … with instructions from the Major-General of the people’s national army, Ahmed Gaïd Salah himself, who visited the region on 27th April last”12? A massacre! First of all, on 11th May, the press announced that the 9th May assault ended with the deaths of “ten terrorists”, including three women and a fifteen year old adolescent.13 Two of the men killed were then depicted by some as the heads of the “katibat Arrahmane” unit, affiliated to GSPC including Abou Omeir Mustapha14 whereas others said they were the emir and the preacher of GSL (Free Salafist Group), a splinter group from GSPC15. Some journalists did make a distinction between the dead women and the teenager and the terrorists but they did say that the dead were used as “human shields” to slow down the advance of the special troops.16
Then on Monday, 15th May, Liberté tells us that on Saturday 13th “The security forces drew level with all the exits of a 1 km, labyrinthine tunnel. It was when the scouts of the special forces entered one of these exits that they made the macabre discovery of 28 bodies of terrorists and their families in an advanced state of decomposition.” And the newspaper precises that there were four women and 24 children, thus reducing the number of presumed terrorists to three! These people had been “tied up to mined rocks” which the terrorists detonated from a distances, using their own families as “human shields.” A little bit further from the carnage, solders discovered three more bodies of terrorists, who still according to Liberté, had been killed by their own relatives when they decided to give themselves up. The following day, fourteen more bodies were found in a cave but the journalists do not give any more details.17
What is therefore, the real toll from this massacre? In collating the contradictory versions from the “security sources”, all cited by the Algerian dailies, it seems that 52 people (among whom were 22 children, seven women and 23 presumed terrorists) died.18 The army only killed six terrorists in the final assault, the others were – still according to the official version – all deaths due to the terrorists themselves. The 24 to 100 terrorists announced at the start of the operation, at the end of March 2006, were therefore in reality, only 23, of whom only three were identified as belonging to an armed group.19
Damning evidence on the use of chemical weapons
A very strange situation, which seems to show that the DRS especially, did not manage their attempts to mask the responsibility of the army in this massacre, where the majority of victims were women and children. All precautions had been taken so that the truth of this operation would remain hidden from public opinion.
However, Algeria-Watch has received several pieces of evidence from those living in the region who are scandalized by what they have seen and who totally refute the official version. We have not been able to verify this evidence on-site but it seems highly plausible and sheds light on the contradictions (and fragments of truth) in the official version passed on by the Algerian press. According to these witnesses, the information on the presence of armed men and their families in this cave in Seddat was given by a former member of GSPC who had recently been turned in. Rapidly, the military and the militia encircled the location and discovered a water hose which served the cave. The special forces arrived a few days after the water supply had been cut, and thanks to sound detectors, they could pin point exactly the location of the inhabitants. For several days, the military authorities and local civilians came daily to the site, calling the Islamists entrenched there to give themselves up, so as to come under the terms of the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation (which shows up another aberration of the official version repeated by some journalists. According to them, these people were responsible for crimes and were excluded from the terms of the Charter, even though the authorities were not supposed to know the precise identity of the occupants of the cave). And the operation seemed to be effectively considered as one of great importance, as witnesses have confirmed that the chief of staff Gaïd Salah accompanied by the military attaché of the US embassy, came to the location where the final assault was being prepared.
After the assault, our witnesses confirm that the commander of the military sector in Jijel, forbade civil defense agents to enter the cave with cell phones that had cameras and that he threatened reprisals to people who divulged information on what they had seen. This did not stop some of them from talking discreetly around them and many in the region are now aware of what has happened. What did these men see when the bodies were evacuated? They counted 37 bodies, among which were 22 children (the oldest was not yet fourteen), nine women and six men. The bodies were rigid, petrified into positions which makes these agents say that toxic gas caused their death. They give as an example, having seen a woman in a sitting position, giving a bottle to her baby, with two children sitting at her sides, all four of them ossified from the moment that death took them by surprise.
The witnesses add that the six male bodies were transported to the morgue before being identified, but those of the women and children were buried “under X” in the Chefka cemetery.20
As if to deny in advance all accusations of using toxic gas at the assault on the cave with women and children, the newspaper Liberté wrote on the 15th May: “from the battle at Seddat, which is due to “end” in the next few hours, what is important to remember is that fundamentalism always has a psychological side which highlights the use of intoxication. Immediately after the discovery of 28 bodies on Saturday night, the GSPC attempted to circulate information stating that the ANP used gas during the assault. The fight against terror does not occur behind closed doors.”
We have not found any evidence that the GSPC publicly stated the use of toxic gas. To our knowledge of this case, there is only one GSPC “communiqué”, dated 17th May 2006, where the group on their website, denounce the massacre of women, children and invalids who took refuge in the cave in Seddat, “unarmed but resolute in not giving themselves up to the military authorities” (this is the exact opposite of the official version of the DRS in the Algerian press). This information was given to us from people who were horrified by what they had seen at the site of the massacre. One must therefore ask if this reference to gas in Liberté is designed to dissuade witnesses of the crimes from reporting what they had seen.
Two weeks after this massacre, the Algerian authorities, through the press, continue to justify this assault in saying “the definite wiping out of underground terrorists in Seddat, has spared (according to reliable sources) Jijel from a planned attack. The former chief of the GSPC zone 6 was at the site to instruct elements of the Ibad Errahmane unit into the dirty business of covering Jijel in fire and blood a few weeks in the summer. For his sinister cause, Abou Oumir had not less that 40 “hebheb” mortar bombs and one religious officer. Luckily, the national warning system in the fight against terror had anticipated the attack.”21
The announcement of this supposed attack, foiled at the last minute, is similar to the great classics of the thundering declarations from several Western countries (an attack “foiled” on the market in Strasbourg, another in Orly and against the headquarters of the DST or the “chemical attacks” in France and Great Britain), all heavily implicated, as we have seen, in the “fight against terror”. When those accused in these affairs are taken to court, there are a number of shadowy areas – notably the role played by different secret services – and the accused are condemned on the basis of presumptions rather than proof.
As for the Algerian powers, they emphasize, through their compliant press, that this supposed, foiled threat is “for export”. “With this operation, we hope to see this scourge disappear, eight months after the creation of the law for peace and national reconciliation. In order to achieve this, those in the fight against subversives have some fifteen years experience, which is no doubt inherited from the former fighters in the war of Liberation, who themselves took part in this operation as they have first-hand knowledge of the location. After ten years of isolation, Algeria is now asked by powerful states to take part in intervention groups specializing in the fight against terror.”22
The presence of a representative of the American military at the location where this gas attack took place, if confirmed, shows the cooperation between the two countries has become more than that of training and military maneuvers. More disquietingly, it seems that the DRS are planning other operations of similar caliber and with more dead bodies. How can one interpret otherwise this advertisement from L'Expression on the 23rd of May: “one week after the end of intelligence operations in the Jijel bush, culminating in the elimination of tens of the bloodthirsty hidden in Seddat in the Chekfa region, the commander of the 5th Regional Military, has begun three parallel operations in the dense scrub land of Collo, in cooperation with the border administration of Jijel province. Eight thousand soldiers have been mobilized for this final cleansing of the scrub land, and elements of special units such as parachutists and helicopter forces will take part in these extremely important operations.”
The Charter for peace and national reconciliation, September 2005 and its coming into law in February 2006 (which codifies impunity for all sectors of the security forces), prohibits naming those responsible for crimes of “national tragedy”. This means that the independent commission of enquiry on the crimes committed in Algeria is liable for imprisonment from three to five years. This commission of enquiry is really the news: under the name of reconciliation, massacres, forced disappearances and torture are the norms due to the power of the torturous and corrupt generals.
1 L'Expression, 22nd April, 2006.
2 “The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Bedjaoui on a visit to Washington”, Liberté, 15th April, 2006.
3 “Algeria 'fed false information' about terror suspect”, May 24th, 2006, http://news.pipex.com/Pipex/News/Story_Page/
4 See Salima Mellah , “The Islamic Movement, between Independence and Manipulation”, Committee of Justice for Algeria, November 2004, http://www.algerie-tpp.org/tpp/pdf/dossier_19_mvt_islamiste.pdf .
5 See in particular, the good summary by Jeremy Keenan, “Waging War on Terror: The Implications of America's “New Imperialism” for Saharan Peoples”, The Journal of North African Studies , vol. 10, no 3-4, Sept. Dec. 2005.
6 L'Expression, 11th May, 2006.
7 Liberté, 11th May, 2006.
8 Le Quotidien d'Oran, 28th March, 2006.
9 Le Quotidien d'Oran, 25th March, 2006.
10 Liberté, 26th March, 2006.
11 Le Quotidien d'Oran, 26th March, 2006.
12 L'Expression, 11th May, 2006.
13 Liberté, 11th May, 2006; L'Expression, 11th May, 2006.
14 Liberté, 25th May, 2006.
15 Le Soir d'Algérie, 16th May, 2006.
16 Liberté, 15th May, 2006 ; El Watan, 15th May, 2006; Le Soir d'Algérie, 11th and 16th May 2006; L'Expression, 11th May, 2006.
17 Le Quotidien d'Oran, 16th May, 2006; El Khabar, 16th May, 2006.
18 El Khabar on 16th May, 2006 gives a number of 51 deaths.
19 Le Quotidien d'Oran (15th May, 2006) gives the names of two of the three men, including the emir of the unit Houari Youcef, alias Abou Omeir Mustapha. The following day, the newspaper has a new take on the question of the identity of these men and puts forward three names that do not correspond with those cited the previous day.
El Khabar (16th May, 2006) for its part, states these names but the emir in question does not figure.
20 Information found in Le Quotidien d'Oran, 15th May, 2006.
21 Liberté, 25th May, 2006. El Khabar states that on 11th May, 2006 the Special Forces found three home-made mortar bombs called “hebheb”. L'Expression on 17th May 2006, explains that “the criminals had a depot of several home-made bombs “hab-hab” and anti-personnel explosives. This is a defense method used by the Afghans in the war against the former USSR.”
22 L'Expression, 11th May, 2006.