Algeria-Watch: GIA: Armed Islamist Groups Serving the Algerian Sécurité militaire?

GIA: Armed Islamist Groups Serving the Algerian Sécurité militaire?

Algeria-Watch, March 2003 (Translation from german)

Who abducted three French consular officials in Algiers in October 1993, releasing them four days later, bearing a message from their abductors that all foreigners were to the leave the country?

Who carried out an attack in August 1994 in the well-protected settlement of Aïn Allah in Algiers, in which three French gendarmes and two embassy staff were killed?

Who hijacked an Air France airplane on December 24, 1994, in Algiers that was stormed by a French special commando three days later in Marseilles?

Who conducted five bombings in France between July 11 and October 17, 1995, which resulted in eight dead and 250 injured?

Who abducted the seven French Trappist monks from Tibhirin and murdered them?

The GIA (Groupes islamiques armés; Armed Islamic Groups) confessed to all of these attacks, and is responsible for the murder of hundreds of foreigners, journalists, clergy, women and children.

But who is the GIA?

These groups appeared out of the blue during 1993 and their leaders were unknown within the Islamic movement. While in 1993, they conducted targeted attacks on individuals who were suspected of working with the regime, with the rise to power of Djamel Zitouni within the GIA (September 1994 – July 1996), they changed their practices and intensified their attacks on the civilian population and their threats to France. The big military offensive against the Islamists began in the summer of 1994 and at the same time, a terrorist machine was set into motion whose violent means appeared to serve the goals of those in power, particularly since many officers of the FIS (Front islamique du salut, Islamic Front for Salvation) condemned the terror. In many cases, observers questioned whether these groups were manipulated or controlled by the Algerian secret service.

The Algerian regime’s harsh methods of operation, nullifying the elections through a military coup and allowing for the incarceration, torture and murder of thousands of FIS cadres and activists – who had won the election -, did not enjoy unanimous uncritical acquiescence from Europe and the USA.

In the middle of 1994, though France was advocating for the forgiveness of Algeria’s international debt, French President Mitterand and other politicians were supportive of the Algerian opposition’s initiatives: under the patronage of the Community of Sant’Edigio, all representative opposition parties met for the first time in November 1994 in order to publicize a platform for a solution to the crisis in January 1995. The platform was categorically rejected by the Algerian junta. For a short period of time, the regime appeared to be isolated. The propaganda disseminated by the Algerian State and some Algerian intellectuals claimed that « Islamist terrorism » was exclusively responsible for the violence. However, Western support for the Algerian regime was still not secure. Although no government was interested in a takeover of power by the Islamists, the terror perpetrated by the State could not be overlooked: the US Department of State published a report on the human rights conditions in Algeria at the beginning of 1995 that was devastating to the Algerian government, and the European media reported approximately 1,000 deaths per week.

Precisely then, the terrorism was exported to France. The GIA struck first with the hijacking of the airplane on Christmas 1994 and subsequently with the attacks in Paris beginning in July 1995. These attacks definitively shifted the mindset in France and Europe: the European politicians and the public came together and unquestioningly spread the official Algerian version of a war of the « Crazy Gods » against democracy and freedom. The Algerian regime was victorious.

Not only terrorism was exported from Algeria to France, but also the methods for combating terrorism: the men who participated in the attacks were arrested and convicted, despite a lack of evidence, as the sole attackers. The trial in October 2002 in Paris revealed that the court did not want to look into evidence of Algerian secret service involvement in the attacks: Boualem Bensa ïd was sentenced to life imprisonment for the worst bombing – the one in the Saint Michel RER station in Paris (8 dead and 150 injured), although no evidence was presented that he had orchestrated the attack. The second defendant, Smaïn Aït Ali Belkacem, was sentenced to life for two additional attacks. Evidence as to the orchestrators of the attacks was presented, but it was disregarded. Who would be surprised to learn however that not only the role of the Algerian secret service, but also the role of the French secret service is suspect? Lastly, Ali Touchent, head of the GIA in France, who fled to Algeria after the 1995 attacks and was likely executed there, had allegedly been identified without having been taken into custody. The questions as to the reasons for this were not explored in court.

Shortly after the end of the trial, the French television station Canal+ aired a program by Romain Icart and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire on the background to the attacks. In « Attentats de Paris: on pouvait les empêcher » (Attacks in Paris: They Could Have Been Prevented), the two journalists suggested that Djamel Zitouni had been recruited by the Algerian secret service (DRS) [1] as an informant. As he subsequently rose to the head of the GIA in Algeria, the DRS used him to carry out the executions of Islamists who had joined the GIA and to spread terror through the civilian population. Surrounded by DRS agents, Zitouni and his GIA served the regime goal of securing French support through terrorist attacks.

The two journalists’ conclusions were based on three years of research and interviews, which they conducted with diverse players and observers on the Algerian and French scenes. We will now present the findings of their investigation based on the script of the film [2].

The first disclosures by a former secret service agent appeared in the British newspaper The Observer [3] in 1997, which revealed that since 1992, the Algerian military had adopted a radical strategy for ensuring that the Islamists did not come into power. Captain Hocine Ouguenoune explained that Djamel Zitouni became a key instrument for carrying out the strategy. In 1991, Zitouni was allegedly detained in one of the concentration camps, where after having been discovered in homosexual activities, he was pressured by the head of security for the camp to collaborate with the DRS.

Shortly thereafter, the newspaper Le Monde published the statements of another officer [4], who confirmed the recruitment of Zitouni: « We helped him take over the leadership of the GIA. Zitouni was the one who gave us the most important information in our war against the GIA. » He also substantiated Algerian secret service involvement in the attacks in Paris: « I confirm that the attacks in Saint Michel [8 dead and over 130 injured on July 25, 1995] and Maison-Blanche [13 injured on October 6, 1995, on the day of the burial of Khaled Kelkal, chief suspect in the failed attacks on the TGV Paris-Lyon] were instigated by the DRS’ Service Action de la Direction Infiltration et Manipulation (DIM), which was led by Mohamed Mediene, more commonly known as ‘Toufik,’ and General Smain Lamari. »

Both journalists were able to speak to this officer, Colonel Ali, during the reportage. He explained: « Those who deny the existence of armed Islamist groups are either malevolent, misinformed or manipulated. But the core, the groups from the middle and western regions, were infiltrated from the beginning. Zitouni is, as one says, a black sheep. He was a staunch Islamist, though he gave the DRS strategic information. » Colonel Mohamed Samraoui, the right-hand man to Smaïn Lamari, the head of counter-espionage (DCE: Direction du contre-espionage), reported that Zitouni was in and out of the barracks.

In 1994, the future head of the GIA, who had been unknown within the Islamist movement up to that point, was allegedly propelled to the top of the group through a spectacular series of events: on August 3, 1994, five Frenchmen were murdered in the well-protected settlement of Aïn Allah. The Algerian secret service attributed responsibility to Zitouni, a version that was unquestioningly adopted by the Algerian press and the French news agency AFP. Captain Ouguenoune claimed that Colonel Bachir Tartag, the long-time head of one of the most important DRS torture centers in Ben Aknoun, Algiers, planned the attack.

The next stage, as explained to us by Abbas Aroua, editor and publisher of a study about the Algerian massacres [5], involved orchestrating a coup within the GIA in order to bring Zitouni to power. The army organized an ambush, in which Zitouni and his lieutenants came under fire. Everyone was killed except for Zitouni.

The Algerian head of counter-espionage was pleased and told his French colleagues of the operation. An official within the French Ministry of Defense confirmed this to the two journalists: « The ambush was well organized and they could have killed all of them, if they had wanted to, but they did not kill him [Zitouni] intentionally. As I was told this, I was not surprised. This man was spared because a relationship had already been established with him and because it was believed that he would then step up as successor – which evidently occurred – and be more obliging. This appeared entirely normal to me. »

Mohamed Larbi Zitouti, a former diplomat for the Algerian embassy in Libya, contended: « Zitouni, earlier, that was infiltration. With the takeover of power by Zitouni, the Generals assumed complete control over the GIA. » And from that point in time, the civilian population fell victim to GIA violence. Abbas Aroua explains that Zitouni allowed for the killing of all of the Maquis leaders and replaced them with secret service agents. The FIS leaders that are in prison were symbolically excluded and those living abroad, such as Rabah Kebir in Germany and Cheikh Sahraoui in France, were blacklisted. Colonel Ali reported that the list was compiled in the DRS barracks in Ben Aknoun, « because one very simply had to dispose of the so-called ‘FIS Intellectuals.' »

London handed over the GIA communiqués to the media. Kamil Tawil, a journalist for the major Arabic newspaper El-Hayat , confirmed that the newspaper received two to three explanations from the GIA per week, and that these, without having been authenticated, were published for 10 years . The DRS then went even further: it sought to recruit officers to infiltrate the GIA. Captain Ahmed Chouchane, a trainer for the special forces, was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 1992 because he did not want to take part in the repression after the coup in 1992. He explained how he was abducted after being released from prison. « They brought me to the torture center in Ben Aknoun and there, the General.[6] offered me the opportunity to work together with him. Colonel Tartag was also there. At the beginning, they sought to enlist me in the execution of the Islamist leaders who have gone underground. I told them that I thought they would order me to kill Zitouni or other individuals, known for murdering children and women. Bachir Tartag became agitated and said to me: ‘Leave Zitouni alone, he is our man and you will work together with us.' » Chouchane then sought to buy some time in order to leave the country.

The two journalists explained that in late 1994, the regime continued to lack international legitimacy. In Rome, the Algerian opposition called a press conference. All parties, including the FLN, formerly the only legal political party, and the FIS envisioned a peace process that would reintroduce democracy and remove the military from the corridors of power. It was becoming clear that Algeria could also find its way without the Generals, a fact that unnerved them. The Generals then gave Zitouni a new task: to conduct an attack in Europe.

This new radicalization began with the hijacking of the Air France airplane on December 24, 1994, the circumstances of which have still not been clarified. Zitouni’s men were able to penetrate the airplane without a problem since the luggage and the 63 passengers had not been screened. Colonel Samraoui is very categorical: « It would have been unthinkable to carry a hand weapon aboard. However, these people were able to get through. There were even explosives. It is suspicious. »

The Algerian government planned to resolve the hostage situation internally, but faced resistance from France, who had not been allowed to intervene. France’s then-Prime Minister Edouard Balladur personally called President Zeroual and threatened him. The airplane subsequently flew to Marseilles where it was stormed. All of the hijackers were killed and their identities are still unknown today. The Algerian government has still not responded to the questions presented by the investigating magistrate in terrorism cases, Brugière. Despite the hijacking however, the opposition met in Rome in January 1995 and released a platform for resolving the crisis.

The platform was well-received in Paris, Berlin and Washington. The Algerian regime appeared to have failed in its strategy of total war. The Generals had the impression that they had been abandoned by the international community. At exactly this point in time, the GIA struck in France.

As early as June 15, 1995, one of the newspapers close to the Algerian secret service announced the arrival of an Algerian commando in France with plans to conduct attacks. Cheikh Sahraoui, one of the founders of the FIS, was murdered in Paris on July 11. On July 25, the bombs exploded in the underground station of Saint Michel. The FIS immediately condemned the attack, an attack that would later discredit them in the eyes of the international community. In August, a GIA communiqué even appeared in which French President Jacques Chirac was advised to convert to Islam.

The two journalists asked themselves whether the entire event had not been largely manipulated , especially since the organizer of the attacks in Paris, Ali Touchent, is a mysterious figure. This lieutenant of Zitouni recruited young men and propelled them to conduct attacks in the name of the GIA. Many of them were arrested, but the outcomes of their hearings were rather paltry. Jean Lebeschu, former employee for the French intelligence service, wonders about those who were arrested: « I wonder about the behavior of these young men. (…) Their behavior was childish. One would have never believed that they belonged to the GIA network. I think that there must have been much harder individuals within the GIA. »

Ali Touchent is one of these hard men and he was never arrested: during the large-scale Operation Chrysanthème in 1993, in Belgium in 1994, and subsequently after the series of attacks in 1995, those in his network were captured one after the other, but he himself was never prosecuted. The attorney for Boualem Bensaïd, the primary defendant for the worst of the attacks, remarked: « Someone who is able to elude capture once, twice, three times is either very adroit or is tipped off by people who know that police operations are imminent. To evade being apprehended three times, one probably had to have been provided with information. »

For many terrorism specialists, Ali Touchent is, at the very least, an Algerian secret service agent. Jean Lebeschu, former officer in the intelligence corps, is convinced that « he [is] inevitably an agent. In France, one knew of agents who established a network and continually evaded capture and then built a new network. From my point of view, he is an agent; otherwise, it is incomprehensible. »

In any case, after the attacks, Ali Touchent left France and sought refuge in Algeria. Three years later, the Algerian authorities announced his death and as a result, he can never be prosecuted. However, his death has never been substantiated. In actuality, the French interior intelligence corps (DST) had allegedly known since 1995 that Touchent worked for the Algerian secret service. Alain Marsaud, judge and former head of the fight against terrorism, said: « It is true that the DST, in investigating the groups around Kelkal, encountered Algerian secret service agents. That was reason enough to be particularly careful. » Colonel Samraoui confirmed that according to him, Touchent was an agent.

The two journalists, Icart and Rivoire, posed the question as to why the Algerian secret service would have organized the attacks. Samraoui and Marsaud share the same opinion: France was supposed to be pulled into the conflict, as a hostage. The judge explained: « If one lived through the years of 1983 – 1990, one knows that State terrorism is very distinctive. It uses front organizations to bring the war to France. »

According to the above, this was not blind terrorism. The attacks served to send the French government a message. The government understood very well that it was facing terrorism by the State. Marsaud reported: « The DST had the opportunity to inform the government of their suspicions. It was not a case of the good Algerians who govern and the bad Algerians who committed the attacks. It was more complicated. »

On September 15, Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debré, who had been informed by the DST in August of the possible involvement of the Algerian secret service in the July 25 th attack, invited journalists to the Interior Ministry. Dominique Gerbaud, a journalist, reported: « He told us one thing that puzzled us and namely, that he has doubts as to who was responsible for conducting the attacks and that he asks himself whether it was not a front by the Algerian authorities. » The daily newspaper Le Monde used this information to write the following headline the next day: The Algerian Sécurité militaire sought to lay down a false scent to clear the way of those who are interfering. » Algiers reacted very strongly to the headline. Debré leaked the information very deliberately, for although there was no evidence of the deception, he wanted to let the Algerians know that there were doubts as to the official version of events.

Jean Lebeschu, a former inspector for the French intelligence corps, reported that prior to each attack, an Algerian officer came to them and informed them of the pending attack: « .he was never arrested, never spoken of, which of course means that he was protected by our hierarchy. He was a part of the deal between the Algerian secret service and us. »

Marsaud explained with respect to the impact that the attacks were supposed to have: « There is no point in conducting attacks if there is no message to send and if the victim is not being compelled to concede. Thereafter, a parallel diplomacy begins: the source of the threat and how it can be brought to an end must be very clearly understood in exchange for certain advantages. » In plain language: the Algerian regime used terrorism to compel France’s support. And the matter was an open secret that was confirmed by various people in the reportage broadcast by Canal+.

The fact is that since the attacks, French politicians no longer criticize the Algerian regime. Lionel Jospin, who had not been particularly well disposed towards the Algerian Generals, apparently adopted this position. As Prime Minister, he no longer voiced his criticism. He explained his position during a news broadcast on September 29, 1997 (a few days after the big massacres in Rais, Sidi Hamed and Bentalha with over 1,000 deaths): « In the case of Algeria, the great difficulty is that we do not entirely understand what is actually going on there (.) we are against a fanatic and violent opposition, which is fighting against an administration that is using the force and power of the State in a particular way. We must be very careful (.) I have to think of the French people: we have already been affected. I have to take these questions into account. I am of the opinion that we should assume our responsibility, but in doing so, we must also consider that the French population must be protected. It is difficult to say these things, but they will also understand that it is my responsibility to say these things. »

Alain Chenal, a member of Jospin’s party and Socialist delegate to Algeria, confirmed: « This means that the French politicians cannot say what they would want to say about the Algerian regime, because they are afraid of bombings. »

Icart and Rivoire explain: « When Zitouni was killed in the Maquis in July 1996, he had fulfilled his mission: to compel France’s support, to execute a large share of the Islamist intellectuals and to terrorize the Algerian population. Today, the massacres are carried out by civilians and most of the Generals are still in power. »

Samrouai added: « Who is supporting these people except for France? France is their most important source of support. Some French agencies, some French intelligence agencies and some political circles are helping these people. »

The reportage ended with the conclusion: this regime, which France supports due to economic and strategic reasons and a fear of terrorism, is in a bad state. Since the massacres of 1997, many Algerians have come to understand that the GIA often served the Algerian secret service by conducting massacres and attacks. The French government pretends to be unaware of it all: in 2003, the ‘year of Algeria’ is being celebrated.

[1] DRS : Département du renseignement et de sécurité is a new name for the Algerian secret service, which is generally still called the Sécurité militaire.

[2] < > here is a rendition of the text, though without a complete translation.

[3] We bombed in Paris for Algeria, The Observer, November 9, 1997,

[4] Algerische Geheimdienste in die Attentate in Paris verwickelt , Le Monde, November 11, 1997

[5] Abbas Aroua, Y. Bedjaoui, M. Aït-Larbi, An Inquiry into the Algerian massacres, ed. Hoggar, Switzerland, 1999

[6] Reference to General Kamel Abderrahmane of the DCSA (Direction centrale de la sécurité de l’armée), former head of the army’s secret service.