Former Intelligence Officer and Trial Witness looks back
Algeria Interface, July 5, 2002
Paris, 05/07/02 – Mohamed Samraoui is a former secret service officer. He was in Paris to testify in court in general Khaled Nezzar’s libel case against whistleblower Habib Souidia, a former junior army officer and author of « The Dirty War ». He looks back in an interview.
Why did you agree to testify at the libel trial against the author of « The Dirty War » in Paris?
I’m not here to destroy Nezzar but to defend the honour of the army. I believe that some generals use the army as a screen and that Mr Nezzar thinks he can clear sections of it of the crimes it has committed. Broadly speaking, Souaidia’s book retraces his career in the counter-terrorist units. I know the system and I don’t believe he’s lying…It’s a courageous and credible account.
The book and another one, « The Generals’ Mafia » by Aboud Hichem, plus your statements and the revelations on the MAOL website all accuse the intelligence services, the DRS, which you used to belong to…
Just one thing, first. I came here to talk about the MAOL but I’d like to say that I’m not part of it. I don’t agree with their methods, publishing names and flowcharts. But I share their struggle, I share the struggle…to build the rule of law. The whole army wasn’t behind the killings, only certain sections of it, specifically the DRS, the gendarmerie and special forces.
Why did you quit the intelligence services and ask for political asylum in Germany in 1996?
I can’t tell you all the reasons. As early as 1992, I was against mass arrests. And I believe in the law, so I disapproved of certain methods. In 1990 I refused to take part in a plot against former president Ahmed Benbella. It was an affair that shook the Hamrouche government. In 1996 I was against the assassinations of leading members of the FIS exiled in Germany – Rabah Kébir and Abdelkader Sahraoui. We were talking to them at the time about reaching an agreement with the AIS. I managed to prevent Sahraoui being killed. He was well connected, he knew Jimmy Carter and Kadhafi. I warned general Smain Lamari [head of counterespionage] against it. I was ousted. I’ve kept all the evidence.
What do you think of the fact that prominent figures like Sid-Ahmed Ghozali, Ali Haroun, Kamel Rezzag-Bara and Leila Aslaoui should testify for Nezzar?
I respect them but they should know that the regime needed a civilian facade. I respect their struggle but they’re partly responsible…As for Nezzar…I get the impression he’s forced to be the sacrificial lamb, given his age and past responsibilities. But I don’t want to speculate….
You assert that the intelligence services fabricated the GIA. Couldn’t that clear the Islamists of responsibility for their crimes?
Let me set the record straight: Islamist groups were in existence before 1992. That’s a fact and even the Islamists don’t deny it. The services infiltrated some groups, manipulated others and actually created some. There came a time when nobody any longer knew which insurgent group belonged to which officer. On top of all that there the militia, which further confused matters because they were shoot-outs to settle scores. There was total turmoil and it’s the DRS’s fault because it lost control of what it had set in motion. In 1992, they started picking up innocent people to demonise the FIS. I know what I’m talking about, but I can’t tell you everything. If I did those involved what destroy all the evidence.
So all the manipulation started in the early 1990s?
The secret services approached the Islamists of the Armed Islamic Movement in 1989 when they were in prison and released them in return for favours. For example they recruited Ahmed Merah, they wanted to control their activities. There were also contacts between intelligence and Abdelkader Chebouti’s wing of the MIA…They even created emirs [commanders] like lieutenant Bouamra who they sent to Pakistan. He was a secret service agent. They bumped him off afterwards. By infiltrating the Islamist movement their aim to was to radicalise it.
What are views of the massacres of civilians in 1997 and 1998?
Even if factions of the regime or the military establishment did not order the massacres they let them happen. Either way, they’re entirely responsible. There was definite complicity at the Bentalha massacre. Helicopters with night vision equipment hovered overhead on the night of the killings, so they could see what was going on. Even if army top brass didn’t orchestrate it, they sat back and let it happen.
What was your role in the secret services in Bonn before you defected?
It’s no secret that all postings abroad were to fight against terrorist groups and against Islamists in general. We knew that we had at all costs to prevent the creation of Taliban-like republic. I fought against fundamentalism, armed groups, terrorist networks and arms smuggling. But not against the FIS as such. It was a political party and I respect the constitution, even if the aims of the FIS anticonstitutional. The fault lies with the government that allowed its creation
Isn’t what you say what Nezzar says?
Yes. We thought what we could save Algeria, but I now admit we were wrong. Ten years and 200,000 deaths later the economic fabric is in tatters, private monopolies have taken over from public ones, and huge swaths of the people live in poverty.
When you fought against Islamist networks, did you know that torture and summary executions went on?
They were standard practice that nobody can deny. There were summary executions and torture was systematic. But I didn’t take part in any way. General Nezzar says there were ‘excesses’, but I say they mustn’t be tolerated and should be punished. But only subordinates are punished, never the commanding officers.
You haven’t been lambasted like other people after your revelations on the El Jazira TV channel. Is it because of the proof you say you have?
That’s your interpretation… The day a Truth and Reconciliation Council is set up, then I’ll come up with proof to back up what I say. I don’t want to send anybody to the gallows. What counts is that they acknowledge they did wrong. The people have had enough. The only solution is that the generals go and that there is reconciliation between Algerians. A state institution shouldn’t use terrorist methods, otherwise it’s the law of the jungle that prevails.
The DRS is widely dreaded but you seem calm.
I don’t know if you’ll grasp what I’m about to say but let me tell you I’m a dead man. I don’t exist any more, I’ve sacrificed everything, and my family lives very meagrely. But my conscience is clear. There’ve been smear campaigns against in the papers, but I don’t care, it was predictable…General Smain used Ahmed Merah to answer me back in an article in the Quotidien d’Oran. Merah said there was no such thing as infiltration but ‘missions’. Merah’s mission in Kabylia was to create guerrilla groups, he didn’t say that.
Are you writing a book?
I’ve already written two. One on the GIA and the other on the period up to June 1990s. They’ll probably be published in September and December.
Interviewed by Djamel Benramdane