Who Killed Lounes Matoub?
Algeria-Watch, Infomappe 15, January 2001
On June 25, 1998, Matoub Lounes, one of the most well-known singers in Algeria, was murdered. His death resulted in significant rioting. At the demonstrations, many residents of Kabylie immediately showed skepticism towards the official version of his death and alleged that the State was in fact behind his death. Even in Germany, his death caused a sensation. The ARD correspondent Samuel Shirmbeck adopted the official version, claiming that the GIA was behind his murder, thereby failing to present the opinions of the enraged Kabyles.
Many have questioned the official version because the attack took place during a time period marked by significant conflict between President Zeroual and the military leadership. A news report on the death of the singer was broadcast in France in October 2000. (1) The cumulative information and facts in the report presented the murder in an entirely different context: an Arabization Law, a Presidential initiative, was supposed to take effect in the beginning of July. Massive protests in Kabylie were supposed to frustrate its implementation. And the alleged murder of a Kabylie symbol by Islamists would provoke the situation in the region.
Matoub Loune, who lived in France, had to go to Algeria in order to resolve an issue with his wife’s visa. For months he had pled with his friends in the RCD to handle the issue so that his wife could follow him to France. Ait Hamouda, representative of the RCD, head of one of the strongest militias in the country and an important local potentate, took responsibility for the young woman’s passport and did nothing. Said Sadi, chairman of the party, was unreachable during this time. Inflamed with rage, Matoub traveled to Algeria and…was killed. The demonstrators in Kabylie however did not – as expected – blame Islamists for the crime, but instead called out “Pouvoir assassin!” (Murderous State).
Since June 25, 1998, evidence has surfaced that points to the involvement of highly influential personalities in this affair. It gets worse: RCD officers are also suspected of being responsible or at least of having been informed of the attack.
Journalists, who were later researching the incident on-site in the Kabylie, learned that agents of the military security service had been in the vicinity of Matoub’s hometown for months. Some of them had been dressed as Islamists and sought to intimidate the population with their displays of grenades and weapons. The population knew that they were fake Islamists. Some residents appealed in vain to the gendarmerie for help and consequently sent a fax to Amnesty International and various French media outlets in order to voice their fears.
On the day of the assassination, there was a large military presence in the area. Residents of Tala Bounane were told not to leave their homes and merchants had to close their stores. The gendarmerie and the military stated that they planned to carry out a sweep. At an intersection, they had been redirecting traffic, though they allowed Matoub’s car to pass through. Witnesses who saw the attackers reported that they are certain that the attackers were not members of the GIA, since GIA members are well-known. Numerous residents noticed that the attackers reappeared dressed in military uniforms shortly after the attack.
A few minutes after the assassination, Nouredine Ait Hamouda contacted the French media and charged the GIA with the crime. Lounes Matoub’s sister, Malika, initially thought that the Islamists were responsible. Nadja, the wife of the murdered, who was slightly injured in the attack, was forced to sign a statement in the hospital, in which she confirmed that the GIA was responsible for the murder. The skepticism advanced by some as to this version of events was overshadowed by the repeated statements of Algerian officials, including Ait Hamouda. In the meantime, demonstrations by youth, who did not believe the GIA with to be responsible in spite of the statements released by Matoub’s relatives, were suppressed with violence. A young man was murdered by the head of a militia. (2)
The Matoub family undertook all they could to ensure an investigation into the attack and to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted. As Malika Matoub went to the gendarmerie for information on the status of the investigation, she noticed that the entire personnel had been transferred and that no progress had been made on the investigation. In addition, some important pieces of evidence had been destroyed or covered up: the victim’s clothes had disappeared and the vehicle, which showed signs of over 70 bullet holes, was not an object of the investigation, a circumstance that appeared strange, especially when considering that Lounes Matoub was murdered with revolver bullets. It is also remarkable that Matoub’s three companions were only slightly injured. It is assumed that the car was riddled with bullets after the murder in order to mislead investigators. The Matoub family no longer believes that an Islamist group killed the singer.
Some wanted to close the file on the case quickly: the murder was committed by an armed group consisting of eight men, five of whom were murdered by the security forces and three of whom are on the run.
Over a year later, some suspects emerged: Abdelhakim Chenoui, who surrendered to authorities in the context of the Law of Civil Harmony at the end of 1999, was arrested and he disappeared. A few months later, he was presented to his family by five plainclothes men, including Nouredine Ait Hamouda. He had lost weight and showed signs of having been tortured. He was immediately taken away again and disappeared. Prior to being taken away, he signed a statement in which he confessed to the murder. He later resurfaced in a prison where Malika Matoub visited him. She is convinced of his innocence and believed that he confessed under torturous conditions. Malik Medjnoun was abducted by security forces on September 28, 1999 and disappeared until May 2000. In the meantime, he had been held at the torture center at Chateauneuf. (3)
The trial against the accused was supposed to take place on December 20, 2000. Three days prior, the investigation was declared to be complete although it had hardly begun. At the request of the family, the trial was subsequently postponed. It is believed that diverse circles within the government, as well as the RCD party, are interested in having the matter resolved as quickly as possibly by identifying two presumed members of the GIA as responsible. The diligence of the Matoub family and their circles of support in the search for the truth has displeased those who could be involved in the matter. A portion of public, above all in Kabylie, continues to use every possible opportunity to hold the State responsible for the murder of Matoub Lounes.
(1) The Matoub Lounes Affair: An Investigation by Michel Despratx, Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, Lounis Aggoun, Marina Ladous, broadcast on October 31, 2000 on Canal +. The script of the film is available at: http://www.algeria-watch.de/farticle/matoub /matoubfilm.htm
(2) See « Freischein zum Töten – Warum ist Hamza tot?, algeria-watch, Infomappe 7, January 1999.
(3) We drew attention to his disappearance in the Infomappe 12, April 2000.