« Françalgérie » : On the secret war in Algeria and French machinations

« Françalgérie »

On the secret war in Algeria and French machinations

Algeria-Watch, July 2004 (Translation from german)

On April 28, a study entitled, « Françalgérie », crimes et mensonges d’Etats (Françalgérie, crimes and lies of the State, La Découverte, Paris 2004) written by Lounis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire appeared in France. For the first time, the details of the “death machine” in Algeria and its accompanying propaganda apparatus are meticulously examined. In particular, the authors explore France’s role in the war, which the Algeria military leadership conducted against its own civilians. Without the support of French politicians and the media, the Algerian “coup-ists” would not have been able to stay in power for so long. The support of the French is due to its economic interests as well as the power and the influence that Algerian generals have exerted upon the French government. Many open questions as to the complicated relationship, which has existed for decades, between the two countries are answered in this book.

A “dirty war” had been going on in Algeria for over 20 months, when on October 24, 1993, three employees of the French consulate were abducted. Two days later, a claim of responsibility from the GIA (Groupe islamique armé) was faxed from London and called for the release of its leader, Abdelhak Layada, who was arrested in June of the same year in Morocco. The group spoke out “against reconciliation and dialogue,” a position shared by the military leadership. Many foreigners felt very unsafe, and a French embassy employee, Lucile Schmid, explained to one of the two authors: “We had the impression that the [Algerian] State was our biggest ally. This resulted in us working more closely with the Algerian authorities.” [1] In fact, as it turned out, the cooperation stretched so far that the abduction by the Algerian secret service (DRS) was conducted in collaboration with the French DST (interior secret service).

The operation was designed to force the French government onto the side of the warmongers. The two journalists learned that Jean-Charles Marchiani, a close advisor to Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, knew of the abduction and possibly even proposed it. He confirmed that for security reasons, he demanded from the Algerians that “the operation should not be entrusted to uncontrollable Islamists, but to DRS agents.” [2] On their part, the Algerian authorities demanded that French authorities arrest FIS officers that had fled to France. A list of 162 individuals to be deported to Algeria was produced and handed over to the Algerians. In the end, over 180 people were taken into custody in November 1993, and some of them were deported to Burkina Faso.

As France’s Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, publicly joined Pasqua’s repressive position, the three hostages were released on October 30. The relief among foreigners living in Algeria was now followed by a shock: the GIA allegedly warned all foreigners to leave the country within a month. Mrs. Thévenot, one of the hostages, had had the message, written on a simple piece of paper, placed in her pocket by the hostage-takers. She explained ten years after the incident: “I was ordered, it [the paper]…to give it to the media, the television, I don’t know anymore. In reality, I did not pass it along, neither to the media, nor to the authorities,” [3]. The question therefore arose as to how Algerian and French authorities could have known of the hostage takers’ message, which she had had on her person, and of its exact content.

The abduction was a prelude to a close, though complicated, collaborative effort between the French and Algerian secret services. The relationship between the two countries often proved to be difficult, since repeated opposition from French politicians and from the public blocked the hard line “éradicateurs” on both sides. “At the end of 1993, the discrediting of the FIS became increasingly important to the survival of the Eradicateur-clan, who found itself confronted with increasingly promising peace and dialogue initiatives.” [4]

The public has been told since 1992 that the war in Algeria is justified by the fundamentalist attack on the Algerian State and democracy. The only institution that is equipped to deal with these “Barbarians” is the Algerian army. And France remained “neutral” throughout the conflict with its hands tied due to the terrorist attacks that occurred on its territory and against its citizens. It is increasingly clear today, 12 years after the beginning of one of the bloodiest wars that cost between 100,000 and 200,000 people their lives, that “this scenario appears to be an immense media-generating construction.” [5]

With an abundance of detail, Lounis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire reveal France’s entanglement in one of the dirtiest wars at the end of the last decade. Meticulously, they trace the most significant stages of the hidden war, conducted under the cloak of a “fight against terrorism.” The Algerian junta used subversive and terrorist methods, the model for which was developed and tested by the French during the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962). However, the students outperformed their teacher in terms of manipulation and perversion. The coup-ists were not only successful in Algeria at enlisting every segment of society to join in their cause or eliminating them. They also won over the French politicians and European public opinion.

« Françalgérie », the title of the book, alludes to the particularly entangled relationship between France and Algeria. Whether historic, economic, political or military, this closeness is shaped by clientelism, corruption, secret agreements and parallel diplomacy, which have trapped both countries in an inextricable net of mafia-esque ties. The authors demonstrate how since 1980, a small group of Algerian officers, who for the most part arose out of the French colonial army, joined forces and little by little attained power as they established the corruption network of the “Françalgérie.” The head of this group was General Larbi Belkheir, who always knew to operate behind the scenes. These military men ultimately came to power in 1992 and today are still the most important men within the regime.

The other pillar of the current regime is the Algerian secret service. The MALG (Ministère de l’Armement, des Liaisons générales et des Communications), founded in 1958, laid the foundation for the later Sécurité militaire, [6] which in 1990 was named the Département de Recherche et de Sécurité (DRS). Characteristic of all three is the all-encompassing ‘control machine’ with which they penetrated all areas of political and military life within the country and abroad. Since the restructuring of the secret service on the eve of the coup, the powerful Mohamed Mediene, head of the DRS, and Smaïn Lamari, head of counter-espionage, took control of all “security-relevant” areas. Their particular deftness is revealed in their ability to empty every political and societal structure and to employ or neutralize all political opposition through base manoeuvres. A close collaboration with the French DST developed when Yves Bonnet took over its leadership. [7] He got to know the former commandant, Smaïn Lamari, with whom he would have the opportunity to work together often in the following years. The prelude to collaborative efforts between the two secret services in France occurred in conjunction with the execution of Ali Mecili, a close colleague of Hocine Aït-Ahmed, the head of the FFS (Front des forces socialistes), in April 1987. Amellou, who was hired by the Algerian secret service to commit the murder, was smuggled out to Algeria with help of the French DST, so that the investigations could not be concluded. [8]
During the 1990s, Smaïn Lamari used his excellent connections to the DST to serve his Machiavellian projects. “In order to infiltrate and monitor the Algerian opposition in France, M’hamed Tolba, head of the DGSN (Algerian police) was allegedly advised by the French secret service to offer up some agents to the French (…). Of the dozen of police officers who were sent to France by M’hamed Tolba, some allegedly began to work for the DRS as ‘double agents.’” [9]

France Becomes Increasingly Entangled in the “Dirty War”

The approved deployment of secret service agents and the manipulation of the Islamists in Algeria (the authors cite the names of agents who led armed groups and ordered the murder of policemen, informers or judges [10]) also occurred in France. At the end of 1994, when the Algerian opposition met for the first time in Rome under the patronage of the San Egidio community to draft a platform to provide a solution for the crisis, the opposition had the support of President Francois Mitterrand and Foreign Minister Alain Juppé. Allegedly, Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl were also interested in the initiative. The Algerian military leadership was very concerned about receiving France’s future support. Pressure was then placed on the French government with the hijacking of an Air France airplane on Christmas 1994. Countless inconsistencies accompanied this strange affair, in which three hostages were executed by a commando unit and all of the hijackers were killed by French special forces (GIGN). French investigatory efforts were blocked by Algerian authorities. Aggoun and Rivoire, who collected an abundance of evidence and conducted numerous interviews, came to the conclusion that the hijacking was orchestrated by the Algerian secret service. [11] Others also came to this conclusion, such as the former anti-terror judge, Alain Marsaud, who posed this question to the authors: “whether it was not a complicated operation by the Algerian government that had decided to resort to violence to put pressure on France?” [12]

In the following months, further attacks put pressure on the French politicians, particularly as the Algerian opposition agreed on a platform to solve the crisis at the beginning of January 1995. To the displeasure of the Algerian junta, some French politicians and intellectuals welcomed the initiative. Besides an extraordinary campaign against the platform participants, who were characterized as accomplices to the terrorism, France increasingly became a target for the violence: in July 1995, Cheikh Sahraoui, an 85-year-old Imam of a mosque in Paris, was murdered. He belonged to the founding members of the FIS and as a moderate Islamist, was a contact person for French authorities, which had displeased the radical faction of the Algerian regime.

This murder was the prelude to six bombs, which were placed in Paris metro stations and which terrified France for three months. Eight people were killed and 200 were injured in these incidents. [13] The GIA was immediately named as responsible for the attacks, though investigations stalled. The man primarily responsible for the attacks, Ali Touchent, who was known to have worked for the Algerian secret service, was able to leave for Algeria unobstructed though he was known to French authorities. Nevertheless others who were involved in the attacks were arrested and convicted to long prison sentences. The court adeptly evaded the question of Algerian secret service involvement.
In hindsight, the series of attacks appear to be a successful means of silencing the French politicians. “The attacks of the summer of 1995, which were systemically attributed to ‘GIA Islamists’ by the media, made things difficult for the Juppé government and made his nuanced position vis-à-vis Algerian politics intolerable.” [14] Though many had known of Algerian secret service machinations for a long time, every position as to the conflict in Algeria was presented as delicate. Open support for the regime was a concession, though a condemnation of its brutal and subversive methods could provoke a renewed attack on French soil. Ultimately, the French government proceeded to support the regime discretely as it had always done. Particularly horrific is that many French officials in politics, the economy and in the secret service knew that the attacks were ordered by the DRS. Numerous agents substantiated this. Alain Marsaud confirmed that if they were to trace the hierarchy of the responsible groups, at some point they would encounter DRS agents. [15] For some, the attacks appeared to go to far: the former French Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debré decided to make clear to Algerian officials in the middle of September 1995 that the French government knew who had conducted the attacks and that a line had been crossed. He organized a press conference in order to pose the question of whether Algerian authorities stood behind the terrorist acts. Nevertheless despite the warning [16] and the consequent cooling of relationships between the two governments, the military leadership had achieved its goal: France’s politicians continue to be reluctant to voice criticism as to Algerian methods.

The Call for a International Investigatory Commission Is Torpedoed by France

Everyone recalls the brutal massacres that have been reported on in the media on a daily basis since 1996. The GIA, under the leadership of Antar Zouabri (who became the successor to Djamel Zitouni in July 1996), was made systemically responsible for the massacres, whether they conceded their responsibility or not. Various officials called for the an international investigatory commission in the beginning of 1997 in light of the many unanswered questions regarding the circumstances under which these crimes were committed and the involvement of the Algerian army. The then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and numerous European governments expressed their doubts as to the official Algerian contention that the government was doing everything it could to protect the civilian population and demanded an outside intervention.

An international movement began to take shape and it demanded the truth as to those responsible for the massacres. The Algerian military leadership was in an uproar because foreign observers should by no means be allowed to conduct on-site inquiries. The French politicians then promptly hastened to the Algerian government’s side. For example, the then French Foreign Minister, Hubert Védrine, rejected every “possibility for international action.” Even the President, Lionel Jospin, who was known for his criticism of the Algerian junta, publicly expressed his regret in not being able to be more proactive. During a news broadcast on September 29, 1997 (a few days after the big massacres in Rais, Sidi Hamed and Bentalha with a total of over 1,000 dead), he explained: “In the case of Algeria, the great difficulty is that we do not understand what it actually going on there (…) we are against a fanatic and violent opposition, which is fighting against a leadership, which is itself using the violence and the power of the State in certain ways. We have to be very careful (…) I have to think of the French people: we have already been affected. I am of the opinion that we must bear the responsibility, though we must also ensure that we are protecting the French population. It is difficult to say this, though they will also understand why it is my responsibility to say it.” [17]

Alain Chenal, a member of Jospin’s political party and the Socialist delegate to Algeria, later substantiated the above to the one of the two authors of the book: “This means that the French politicians cannot say what they would have said about the Algerian regime because they are afraid of bombings.” [18]

The position of the French government was accompanied by an unprecedented media campaign, in which most notably, intellectuals, such as André Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy, played prominent roles. At the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998, they travelled to Algeria and were led to the different massacre sites in order to meet the “right” survivors and witnesses. After their return to France, they produced articles and films that absolved the Algerian army of every accusation and made the Islamists exclusively responsible for the massacres. [19] The articles were translated into various languages and published in the largest European newspapers, including the German newspapers. French support for the Algerian regime gave rise to the result that any inquiry into the identity of those responsible was declared to be taboo. In the meantime, “French diplomacy sought to frustrate every project of the international investigatory commission behind the scenes.” [20]

“In January 1998, after the television station Canal+ had broadcast in its news report Vrai Journal numerous reportages on the topic of DRS responsibility for the massacres, the moderator, Karl Zéro invited Hubert Védrine, Lionel Jospin’s Foreign Minister, to an interview to discuss France’s foreign policy. To the amazement of the journalists of the CAPA agency, who created the reportages for the Vrai Journal, the Minister appeared in person at their weekly dinner (…): for 45 minutes, he spoke only from [the Algerian dossier] and substantiated in detail that the Algerian army had nothing to do with the massacres.” [21]

Nevertheless, in order to generate the appearance of transparency, a group of European delegates was invited to Algeria under the leadership of old “FLN friend,” André Soulier. [22] “In anticipation of the visit by the European delegates, the Algerian authorities placed the opposition under tremendous pressure. On February 4, 20 police and military men stormed the apartment of Mahmoud Khelili, an attorney and famous human rights activist, and abducted two of his sons. On the sixth of February, the pressure, threats and abduction attempts on Ahmed Djeddaï, Secretary General of the FFS, were heightened.” [23] The delegation’s four-day mission was meticulously planned in order to leave nothing to chance. The Algerian secret service paid a visit to the residents of Bentalha: “The embassy was clear: ‘do not say anything, do not speak.’ The authorities recommended that foreign journalists, who were accompanying the delegation’s visit, meet Algerians who claimed to be ‘the victims of the Islamists:’ ‘They offered us witnesses, who could tell their stories in French, English or German, according to the nationality of the journalists who had spoken to them.” [24]

The outcome of the mission completely met the Algerian leadership’s expectations. In the delegation’s official report, made public on February 27, “the delegation concluded against all appearances, that the security forces ‘were not involved in the massacres, but that the army was poorly trained and equipped to combat the diverse forms of terrorism.’” [25] In the meantime, “French diplomats worked behind the scenes to torpedo every project of an international investigatory commission.” [26]

The United Nations was also manipulated: Algerian officials authorized an informational mission by a delegation assembled by officials in consultation with Kofi Annan, which travelled to Algeria in August 1998. As expected, the delegation exonerated the Algerian government. [27] “By enlisting easily manipulated people in Algeria, the generals of the Eradicateurs faction were successful at acquitting themselves in the eyes of the international community. Worse is that they will reference this visit in order to illegitimate every attempt by the opposition and every condemnation of their crimes.” [28] The outcome of the undertaking was the deterioration of the international movement, which had called for a truth commission on the massacres in Algeria.

France’s Politicians Provide For The Algerian Generals’ Impunity

The power struggle between the military leadership hardliners and President Zeroual’s clan that was taking place in the background of the massacres came to an end in September 1998, as President Zeroual announced his resignation. In April 1999, Bouteflika was elected President as the army’s candidate and after six other candidates had withdrawn. The era of normalization was introduced with the Law of “Civil Harmony.” Algeria’s western partners also played along with this game, irrespective of the fact that crimes were continually occurring. As a result, no one was outraged about the November 1999 execution of Abdelkader Hachani, the FIS’ number three man, who led the party in the 1999 election. In addition, numerous disclosures by former army members on the responsibility of the Algerian military for massive human rights violations and above all, the manipulation of Islamist violence in Europe, particularly in France, went unheard. And in April 2001, when a complaint of torture was filed against General Khaled Nezzar, the former Minister of Defense, who was in part responsible for the coup and the construction of the “death machine,” he was smuggled out of the country with the help of French authorities in order to avoid French prosecution. [29]

Still today, France protects the Algerian military leadership. France celebrated 2003 as “the year of Algeria,” and all state-sponsored media, with a few exceptions, presented a very positive image of Algeria, suppressed the many open questions with respect to human rights conditions, ignored the economic as well as the social misery or attributed it to “Islamist terrorism.”

The Algerian generals, who are responsible for the bloody years, are courted today more than ever by European and American politicians due to their economic and strategic interests. The various attempts to file criminal complaints against them in France failed (in Algeria, it is not an option for the victims to proceed against the generals in court) and demonstrate the boundaries of French justice, which yields to political dictates. Since the possibility continues to exist for the generals to face trials abroad, the Algerian government is working on a general amnesty in order to guarantee its impunity. [30] Bouteflika allegedly told Mary Robinson: “I am the only one that can prevent the generals from being put on trial.” [31] It is probably for this reason that he was chosen as the military leadership’s secret favorite in the last Presidential election on April 8, 2004. And President Chirac hurried to Algeria one week after his re-election in order to congratulate him personally on his victory! Under these circumstances, not much appears to stand in the way of amnesty for the generals.

This book of almost 600 pages is a must-read and an outstanding reference book for anyone who wishes to understand the Algerian tragedy. The retrospective on France’s bloody war to conquer Algeria beginning in 1830 and the ruthless methods employed, which were also used during the War of Independence, demonstrates the longevity of the “subversive” methods, which the students of French Generals Bigeard, Aussaresses, Massu and Co masterfully knew to carry forward with them into the present. Whoever has followed the events in Algeria in the past 15 years will be repeatedly astonished at the connections between events that appeared to have nothing to do with each other. It is no surprise that the book was hardly acknowledged by the French media, for even if only the tip of the iceberg is revealed, the reader is already made aware that the responsibility of the French government, media, economy and military extends far beyond what the two journalists have uncovered in their laborious research. This book is a contribution to the understanding of the highly perfect death machine, which has cost over 100,000 people their lives, but also to French leniency, which amounts to complicity in the crimes against humanity.


[1] Françalgérie, p. 343.
[2] p. 344.
[3] p. 350.
[4] p. 356.
[5] Françalgérie, blurb.
[6] p. 42.
[7] p. 96.
[8] p. 109ff.
[9] pp. 335-336.
[10] « One of the most successful instances of back-door recruitment was that of Farid Achi, a DRS lieutenant, who passed himself off as an Islamist and made himself into one of the most important men in the underground movement of mobile groups by the beginning of 1992. Id., pp. 275-276.
[11] pp. 413-418.
[12] p. 418.
[13] pp. 448-459.
[14] p. 453.
[15] p. 456.
[16] p. 458.
[17] pp. 525-526.
[18] Id.
[19] p. 541f.
[20] p. 547.
[21] Id.
[22] pp. 546-547.
[23] p. 546.
[24] p. 546.
[25] p. 547.
[26] p. 547.
[27] p. 553-554.
[28] p. 554.
[29] pp. 570-571.
[30] p. 586.
[31] p. 587.