DRS, GIA and Impunity

DRS, GIA and Impunity

Mohammed Samraoui, July 2003 (translation from french)

Mohammed Samraoui, ex-colonel of the Algerian Secret Services (DRS), ex-right hand man of the chief counterspy Smaïn Lamari became the military attaché in September 1992 and was responsible for the local antenna of the DRS at the Algerian Embassy in Germany. In January 1996, he deserted the army and obtained political asylum in Germany. He had just finished writing « Chroniques des années de sang » (« Chronicles of the years of blood ») published by Denoël in Paris.

The interruption of the election process by the « janviéristes » (« januarist ») generals, seen as the end of the democratic experience begun in 1989, paradoxically did not wake up the Algerian democrats. The FIS, feeling robbed of its victory, was the only one (along with the FFS and the new branch of the FLN) to have ferociously denounced the hold-up against the « elimination of the people’s choice ».

The result of the putsch and its international condemnation, along with the Islamist « resistance », gave place to a situation where power was faced with three challenges:

•  The neutralization of the Islamist guerilla.

•  The need to « sell » a semblance of democracy to the world, with a fake political changeover, where « citizens » would be in the spotlight.

•  The obligation to undertake unwanted negotiations with donors and false economical reforms in order to make everyone believe in the uprightness of the country, despite its being on the verge of bankruptcy.


Other challenges liable to threaten the régime did not represent short- or mid-term danger for the generals who are the ones with the real power in Algeria.

The identity and cultural contestation in Kabylie was muzzled by the « kabyles in service » or by manipulation, in exactly the same way as Aït Ahmed’s FSS (Socialist Forces Front) was weakened in the 1960s and 1970s and his militants were tracked down.

The risks of relocation in Algeria are very minimal, knowing that with the exception of an insignificant minority, the kabyles are very attached to their ‘Algerianness’, largely proved during the 1954-1962 revolution and the events following.

Where social strikes are concerned, the regime risks very little, as the UGTA has been very docile in their regard. During the 1990s, at the apex of the civil war, hundreds of thousands of workers were subjected to being made redundant (the reduction of staff was one of the measures of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) in order to sustain those in power) while the central syndicate remained passive, happy to make threats which were never carried out.

Manipulation as a political tool

Many articles in the Algerian press (for the most part written by journalists who are experts on terrorism and known for rubbing shoulders with the DRS), tell the story of the GIA (Armed Islamic Group), the AIS (Islamic Salvation Army) and other armed factions, while never mentioning the implication of the Algerian Secret Services . However General Khaled Nezzar himself pointed out its role when he was backed into a corner in court, opposite sub-lieutenant Habib Souaïdia in Paris in July 2002, when he declared (1): « infiltrations are the job of any service. » implicitly admitting the infiltration of armed factions by the DRS. (2) However, General Nezzar either pretended not to know, or did not say, that the armed factions were created by the Military Security (SM) during the first months of 1991 under the umbrella project « global action plan » drafted in December 1990. (3)

More precisely, « Nezzar’s plan » was hatched by the power behind the regime, Larbi Belkheir, the principal private secretary of the President of the Republic Chadli Bendjedid, while Generals Mohamed Touati, Abdelmadjid Taright and Mohamed Lamari drafted the plan which was then handed over to the DRS.

When I had revealed that the GIA was born from the DRS on satellite channel Al Jazeera during the month of August 2001, the heads of the SM were keen to get rid of any evidence that they were guilty. Because of the threat of the ICC (International Criminal Court), Generals Mediene Mohamed, also known as Toufik, and Smail Lamari, who needed to eliminate any proof that they were implicated in the genocide of the Algerian people, initially decided to dismiss Colonels Athmane Tartag, also known as Bachir, Chief of the CPMI (4), Farid Ghobrini, Chief of the CPO (5) and Tahri Zoubir also known as Hadj Zoubir, Chief of the news service, in charge of psychological action and disinformation. All three colonels played an essential role in the campaign of terror, repression and murders. The first two either committed these murders, or had them committed by those they commanded and the third covered for them by making sure the media network he had established issued that they were attributed to the « Islamist terrorists ».

The DRS chiefs hoped that by sacrificing the underlings in this way, they would escape Milosevic’s fate in all impunity, whereas they were the people actually in charge of the squadrons of death who were responsible for terror, death and devastation, whether they were called GIA, MIA, FIDA, OJAL (6) or any other paramilitary faction of a similar structure.

Due to this divulgement on television and the relative revelations regarding the manipulation of the armed factions who served the interests of a hidden power, instructions were handed out to the press in Algeria in order that the GIA be slowly replaced with the GSPC (7), a « dissident » organization of the GIA, which would spare the civilians while attacking the military and the security forces. Unlike the loud GIA, the GSPC kept a low profile, rarely had press releases and practically never claimed the deeds it was responsible for. This approach was probably due to the fact that huge and unrepeatable errors had been committed by those in charge of ‘terrorism management’ at the DRS who manipulated the « emirs of the GIA » (8).

On 9 February 2002, DRS Official Antar Zouabri, known as the national emir for the GIA after Djamel Zitouni, was in turn killed at Boufarik in a barbarous operation. His body was then exhibited to the media at the headquarters for the first military region in Blida.

After this, the near-totality of the terrorist attacks taken out in Algeria were attributed solely to Hassan Hattab’s GSPC. The media network of those in power only rarely spoke of the GIA. Emir Abou Tourab himself, the presumed successor to Antar Zouabri, ex-Emir of the GIA, pictured as a bloodthirsty man, mysteriously « disappeared »! The GSPC became the new scarecrow to be brandished, in order to frighten a civil society already undermined by endemic divergences and with no hold over the people.

The DRS propaganda took advantage of the painful events of 11 September 2001 and the international lobby against terrorism to label the GSPC a branch of the A l Qaeda of Osama Bin Laden. However, A l Qaeda had never been mentioned by any Algerian newspaper before this fatal date. The aim of this was no doubt to please the Americans, but also to dismiss the specter of the ICC – the International Criminal Court – by keeping a low profile and guaranteeing all the American procedures (or rather political drifts), including their aggression against the Iraqi people.

The generals, in order to escape the ICC, were ready to sell the riches of their country, to renounce national sovereignty (President Bouteflika in Vienna proposed his services in the negotiations with the kidnappers of the hostages in the Sahara by offering a « way out ») and to deny all of the principles of the November 1954 revolution including Algeria’s commitment to the right of people to self-determination when he unabashedly declared « Algeria does not need a new State on its borders » and by suggesting that there are « no winners and no losers. (9) »

We must get back to the roots of the GIA and the DRS in order to better understand what was at stake for the « visionary » strategy of the generals and to better understand who exactly benefits from anarchy and chaos.

The roots of armed factions

In early1991, upon orders from Colonel Smain Lamari, the Bouyalist networks of the MIA (10) were reactivated by chief-in-command Amar Guettouchi, head of the CPO (until his death in May 1992 in the Telemly affair described in detail in my above-mentioned book). The MIA – Algerian Islamic Movement – will keep the same acronym (for confusions’ sake!) and become the Armed Islamic Movement, after some beating around the bush on the part of the Algerian services which were reviving the divergences between some of their leaders, namely Abdelkader Chebouti, Baa Azzedine and Mansouri Meliani. Ahmed Merah was the only one who was openly part of this game and who neither hid his allegiances nor his frequent visits to his new « employers », allowing himself to be seen in the centre of Antar or Ghermoul, headquarters of the DCE.

The MIA had already been given technical means by the SM during this period, such as walkie-talkies and vehicles, seeing as I had to offer them four vehicles from the car park of the SRA (Service for Research and Analysis) which I headed at the time. The heads of the MIA were requested to recruit individuals in order to create resistance and to make believe that the FIS had been overtaken by its radical wing, amounting to a subterfuge which risked military intervention. However, in early 1991 the ANP (National Popular Army) was not yet prepared to start an attack and the hope of containing the FIS at the legislative elections on 26 December 1991 at a tolerable threshold of 30 percent had not yet been eliminated by the « alchemists » of the Tagarins. (11)

The many officials who had been infiltrated to fill the ranks of the Islamic movement meant that the opinions of the heads of the FIS oscillated continuously between those that proclaimed the Jihad and those that incited to peace, in the same way as there was a division between the modern following of the Djazaara (the Algerian obedience) and the Salafists (partisans of Islamic traditions) who rejected democracy.

At the time of the strike of the FIS, which was considered insurrectional by those in power, and during the events of June 1991, part of the Islamic resistance had already been constituted. Some of its members were ‘deserters’ or officers from the SM such as Captain Ahmed Bouamra, who after simulating a removal of army numbers and after time spent in Afghanistan, took the lead of the El Hidjra oua Takfir faction in the popular neighborhood of Belcourt, where he preached as an Imam at the Es Sunna Mosque.

A large section of the « Afghans » auditioned at Antar were either returned, or were led to join small factions in the process of being constituted, who seriously believed they were serving the Islamic cause; this category of manipulated Islamists no doubt implemented the criminal plans of Smain Lamari, Kamel Abderahmane and his consorts, by attacking the targets their officers-in-charge designated for them, who generally selected the people who needed to be eliminated: journalists, intellectuals, enemies, problematic individuals in the military, all potential people who could jeopardize the Nezzar plan.

The DRS wanted to disqualify the FIS at all costs from the race to power, but with no legitimate or legal argument to sustain it, it was forced to undertake a series of actions, from secret contacts (between Ali Benhadj and Abbassi Madani and the heads of the DRS) and below-the-belt attacks (false press releases of the special services attributed to the FIS, bugging and surveillance of the heads of the FIS, attempts at dividing them, provocations,.). With this troubled atmosphere as a backdrop, a mad race gripped hold of the heads of the DRS at local levels (Athmane Tartag in Algiers, Mehenna Djebbar in Blida, Kamel Hamoud in Constantine, Abdelwahab in Oran, .) who all surpassed each other in terms of infiltration of the factions they often had set up themselves.

Abbassi Madani and Ali Benhadj’s arrest on 30 June 1991, combined with the wave of repression and the deportation of militants to the « secure » camps in the south led activists to opt for living in hiding. Once the SIT (Islamic Work Syndicate, an organization which was close to the FIS and contested the hegemony of the UGTA) was forbidden, the DRS was able to take charge of the organization due to a network of agents which gravitated around the brothers Eulmi (Omar and Abdenacer), Said Makhloufi and Abdelkader Moghni, turning it into a « guerilla » organization which had to give birth early 1992 to the MEI – the Islamic State Movement.

While the FIS was preparing its congress in Batna in July 1991, Chief-in-command Amar and his agent Ahmed Merah were busy organizing the Zbarbar resistance, while the Chief of government Sid Ahmed Ghozali sent ambassadors (sheik Sahnouni and sheik Zebda) to Chréa to propose to Said Makhloufi (wanted since June 1991 for instigating the general strike in May-June 1991 of the FIS and for being the author of the pamphlet on civil disobedience) to take the direction of a second FIS which would be funded by the DRS!

The failure of the Zbarbar congress mid-January 1992 which was supposed to federate the armed factions of the centre (namely the MIA, EL Hidjra our Takfir, the secret members of the SIT and other factions) did not give the DRS the opportunity to control the « nebulous » ensemble of factions.

Mansouri Meliani, having detected the maneuver, made the Chief of the DCE, Smaïn Lamari abort his unification project. The latter in fact will never forgive Mansouri Meliani for his foresight, as he had him arrested by the El Achour end of May/early June 1992 (his arrest was only announced in July, after the assassination of Mohamed Boudiaf, when he had been detained and tortured in the police barracks at Châteauneuf), and had him condemned to death and executed after a summary trial.

It is pointless to expand on the voting process which came to a standstill and on its nefarious consequences for Algeria. Robert D. Kaplan writes to this purpose in La stratégie du guerrier (12): « the annulment of the second round of scrutiny in Algeria in January 1992, was in no way the reason behind Islamic terrorism and civil war, except for in the beginning ». With the excuse of curbing the rise in fundamentalism, the entire Algerian society has been dismantled whereas the main military players, with a couple of exceptions, still have the same posts since 1991, and over the same period of time five heads of state and a dozen heads of government have been « consumed ».

The strategy of the generals could be efficient only in case of armed conflict, the repression and the confinement of Islamic activists were but a prelude to the expansion of the GIA which, aside from an uncertain period (around the time of the arrest of Abdelhak Layada in Morocco and the enthronement of Djamel Zitouni as « National Emir ») (13) would be taken charge of by the DRS in order to run its counter-guerilla operations with the aim of eradicating the Islamic dispute, quieting the democrats and maintaining the subservience of the people.

Meanwhile, the squadrons of death and other shadowy organizations from the laboratories of the DRS, such as OJAL, the FIDA, continued to be rife, pursuing their dirty job of putting those who had the nerve to resist in line, leaving only two alternatives: the grave or exile. The terror campaign would also ensure the reign of the despots, who already had the control of the state levers, the henchmen in key posts and the division of government stocks between « the warlords ».

From September 1994 to July 1996, Djamel Zitouni, at the head of the GIA, followed in the wake of the eradicators to power, attacking Abbassi Madani and Ali Benhadj, denouncing the peace offering of Saint Egidio (14), multiplying the massacres of civilians living in the regions known for their sympathy with Islamists (Larbaa, Meftah, Médéa, Chlef.), engaging in a pitiless fight against the resistance of the AIS and getting rid of the chiefs of the Islamic movement who were imprudent enough to join him (Mohamed Saïd, Abderazak Redjem, Saïd Makhloufi). General Kamel Abderahmane (head of the DSA) and Colonel Athmane Tartag, also known as Bachir, who had even suggested to Captain Ahmed Chouchane, ex-Officer of the Special Forces and instructor of the Cherchell Academy known for his piousness, to second the shady Djamel Zitouni with the aim of murdering Islamic opponents. (15) Kamel Abderahmane himself had organized a meeting for him with the National Emir of the GIA, proving the extent to which the GIA was a mere tool in the hands of the authorities.

The skills of terrorist Zitouni were used to apply the recommendations of the IMF which the government didn’t dare to do. Zitouni’s GIA saw to destroying and burning down all the unproductive companies in deficit which the government no longer wished to fund. Workers were suddenly made redundant, without the state having to announce redundancies, thus avoiding confrontation with the workers and economizing on the intervention of the police in the face of the contestations.

At the time when the GIA was hounding the obsolete public enterprises, no property of the generals (factories, hotels, businesses,.although some of these were located at the heart of insecure areas such as Larbaa, Khémis El Khechna, Blida.) ever was damaged in the slightest way. This apparent calm is odd when one thinks of the madness which seemed to have gripped hold of the armed factions at the time, who were burning or murdering babies.

By eliminating Zitouni, the DRS endeavored to erase all traces of its implication in the terrorist attacks in France in 1995 and in the kidnapping followed by the murder of the monks of Tibéhirine, as Warrant Officer Tigha Abdelkader, working for the CTRI in Blida at the time of these events, related later on. (16)

Antar Zouabri, who succeeded Zitouni in July 1996 was also known for being an official of the DRS. He adopted the same principles as Zitouni, i.e. maintaining chaos by perpetuating the massacres in the Mitidja in the periphery of Algiers. The pinnacle of horror was reached in 1997 and 1998 with the massacres at Rais, Bentelha, Beni Messous and Relizane, where army factions stationed not far from where the carnage took place (which at times lasted hours), shone in their passivity, deeming it pointless to intervene. There is no doubt that the army was either implicated or an accomplice in these odious crimes. This was confirmed by the fact that the attackers who arrived in trucks took all their time to accomplish their deeds and left in no hurry either. No man of rank in the army deemed it useful to check on what was taking place and no culprit was arrested or tried for his crimes against humanity. General Nezzar explained this lack through the instructions left for the soldiers to not leave their neighborhood at night in order not to run any risks. The militaries « shut up » in their barracks did not hear the moans, the groans or the cries for help of the women, children and old men who were being slaughtered for long hours with not a living soul ever intervening.

In a country where impunity reigns almighty and where the most basic human rights are scorned, one could not expect any reaction from those in power. Who took advantage of these massacres which forced the inhabitants of faraway villages to choose the « security » vote in order to give the country the new majority of the RND, a political party created a couple of months earlier? Beyond the terror which it inflicted on its citizens, the GIA had once again come to the rescue of those in power seeing as, on the international level Algeria brought the proof of its intention to establish democracy and did not oppose the changeover (that of the RND dethroning the FLN), thus subtly removing the necessary financial support for its struggle against Islamism « knocking at Europe’s doors ».

What were the consequences of this civil war which killed more than 200 000 people, during which thousands ‘disappeared’ (more than 12 000 according to some non-governmental organizations, more than 7000 according to Algiers), millions were internally displaced and half-a-million went in exile?

The first conclusion one comes to is that there are no rights for the people, who remain incapable of freely voting their representatives. Civil war has above all endeavored to reinforce the power of a military oligarchy within state institutions, the preservation of their interests and the distribution of a couple of grants – or rather crumbs – to the ‘civil’ puppets who swear their allegiance.

This is a sad outcome for the ‘saviors’ of Algeria. Ten years after the interruption of the voting process in January 1992, and even though it was dissolved, the FIS still lives in the minds and hearts of millions of Algerians, terrorism has not been eradicated, corruption, undeserved privileges and vote-catching gimmicks are all in lieu of governance. Increasing anarchy reigns endemically in a country where there are no rights, making the black market lawful, and the bazaar economy a substitute for a market economy; worse still, distraught youth, bereft of illusions, now only focuses on emigrating. Young Algerians seek refuge in drugs, violence, prostitution or delinquency, while others find the only way out of unemployment and a hard life is suicide.

1. Habib Souaïdia, Le procès de « La sale guerre » (The trial of the « Dirty War »), Paris, 2002, p.242.

2. Department for research and security, following the ex-Military Security (SM – Sécurité militaire). Mohamed Medienne is chief whereas Smaïn Lamari, number 2, is head of the DCE (Counterspy Division), the third structure is the DCSA (Direction centrale de la direction de l’Armée/The Central Office for the Heads of the Army).

3. The « global action plan » of the Minister of Defense – which aimed to impede the FIS access to power was put forward to the President of the Republic end 1990. In his memoirs, General Nezzar writes about the « staff headquarters’ political reasoning ». See Khaled Nezzar, Mémoires, Alger 1999, p.217.

4. CPMI: centre principal militaire de recherche et d’investigation (the main military centre for research and investigation). Part of the DCSA which will play a central role in the repression after January 1992. The centre is located in Ben Aknoun, Algiers.

5. CPO (principal centre of the operations, or « Centre Antar »), department of the DRS.

6. MIA: Mouvement islamique armé (Armed Islamic Movement), FIDA : Front islamique pour le djihad armé (Islamic Front for the Armed Jihad), OJAL: Organisation des jeunes algériens libres (Organisation for Young Free Algerians).

7. Salafi group for preaching and fighting.

8. See the account of the press release on the sacrifice of Djamel Zitouni after the murder of the monks of Tibéhirine, covered in my book Mohammed Samraoui, Chronique des années de sang, Paris 2003, p.

9.« L’Algérie n’a pas besoin d’un nouvel Etat à ses frontières » (« Algeria does not need a new State at its borders »), La Gazette du Maroc, 10 March 2003

10. In the beginning of the 1980s an armed Islamic opposition was formed headed by Mustapha Bouyali. It was pulled down in 1987, its members imprisoned and subsequently released upon presidential grace.

11. The ministry of Defence, in the broader sense the Generals.

12. éditions Bayard March 2003 page 93

13. Abdelhak Layada, the second head of the GIA was a DRS agent. At his unforeseen arrest in Morocco in June 1993, the DRS lost a moment of control and two other Emirs who were not enfeoffed were selected: Sid Ahmed Mourad, aka Djafaar El-Afghani (killed 26 February 1994) and Chérif Gousmi (killed 26 October 1994). This is when the DRS took on a new head of the GIA by enthroning Djamel Zitouni responsible for the drift of the GIA as a tool for anti-insurrectional struggle.

14. In November 1994 and January 1995, the entire opposition representative was assembled in Rome under the aegis of the Catholic community of St Egidio in order to elaborate a platform for exiting the crisis, which was categorically rejected by the Algerian government.

15. For more details on this, see the account of Ahmed Chouchen http://www.algeria-watch.org/farticle/nezzar_souaidia/chouchen_temoignage.htm

16. See « Les sept moines de Tibhirin enlevés sur ordre d’Alger » (‘The seven monks of Tibhirin kidnapped upon orders from Algiers’) Libération, 23 décembre 2002.