Algeria acts on massacre of Italians

Algeria acts on massacre of Italians

John Sweeney, Trapani, Sicily, The Observer, 23 November 1997

ALGERIA has reopened its investigation into the massacre of seven Italian seamen and postponed the trial of the alleged killers as a result of an Observer report challenging the police state’s version of events.

The move follows diplomatic lobbying by Italy, which has reopened its own file on the murders in the port of Jenjen on the eve of a meeting of the Group of Seven world leaders in July 1994.

The Italian magistrate investigating the massacre remains concerned that Algeria has not co-operated.

Prosecutor Gianfranco Garofalo, one of Italy’s top anti-Mafia investigators, said in Trapani, western Sicily: ‘We feel very frustrated that the Algerian authorities have not provided us with the means to carry out our investigations.

‘We have not been able to talk to the head of the Algerian investigation. We have not been able to talk to the seven accused of the murders. We have not been able to see a map of the area around the port where the killing took place. We have not seen the detailed paperwork of the case. The rights of the relatives of the Italian victims have been denied.’

Garofalo and his team did not know the Algerians had arrested seven men until the Observer story appeared two weeks ago.

It quoted a former Algerian secret policeman, Joseph, saying that the massacre had been carried out by one of the state’s military security death squads and made to appear as if it had been carried out by Islamic fundamentalists.

The seven accused are Bouzid Chine, Chabane Draa, Mohammed Aberkane, Azzedine Bouchoia, Youcef Zeliche, Azzedine Chine and Azzedine Yahiaoui. If Joseph is correct, it is possible that some or all of the defendants made false confessions under torture.

A spokesman for Amnesty International said last night: ‘International observers from human rights groups should be allowed to attend the trial.’ Algerian officials told the American news agency Associated Press that it would not give a new date for the trial, for ‘security reasons’.

The head of Algeria ‘s military junta, General Liamine Zeroual, issued Presidential Decree 17 last week, instructing the Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, to improve the state’s image.

One of the measures is to hire an international public relations firm to correct the ‘image, often false, of Algeria that is peddled outside Algeria , manipulated at will by interests’.

It will be a tough assignment. Blowtorches, electric shock treatment and water torture are routine instruments at interrogations in Algerian police stations, according to victims who have been granted political asylum in Britain.

Algeria ‘s secret police have been blamed by Joseph for two of the 1995 Paris bombings, the murder of the Italian seamen and a series of massacres in Algeria .

Last week the secretary-general of Amnesty International, Pierre Sane, called for an independent international investigation into the killings in Algeria , which have claimed 80,000 lives since the military junta swept democracy aside in 1991.

He said: ‘The international community has turned its back on the Algerian human-rights tragedy. Such indifference in the face of so much horror is an abdication of their responsibility towards the Algerian people.’

Mr Sane echoed the Observer’s allegation, first raised last May, that the Algerian state was complicit in the massacres. He said the authorities ‘have consistently failed to investigate, or to allow others to investigate, killings and other abuses blamed on both armed groups and security forces’.