Ex-army man saw villagers being murdering

Ex-army man saw villagers being murdering

The Irish Times – Thursday, October 30, 1997

Three people who witnessed some of the horrors of the Algerian civil war and were forced to flee in fear of their lives spoke to Lara Marlowe about the brutal army and police tactics employed against civilians When Reda, now 23, began training with a commando unit of the Algerian army at Biskra last January, he and other conscripts were introduced to a strange whitish liquid, which he says made him feel like Rambo.

« There was a doctor in uniform called Dr Sadek, and he gave it to us. We injected one another. It makes you feel as if you are on the moon, as if you are dreaming. When we killed men, it was as if we were killing cats. »

In May, Reda was transferred to the garrison town of Blida, 50km south of Algiers. He recalls a 2.0 a.m. outing to the nearby town of Sidi Moussa. « We ordered people out of their houses. We stole everything – money, gold. We beat people with our Klashes [Kalashnikov rifles]. We took 16 prisoners. Our officers told us there were terrorists among them. » The 16 men were taken to the basement of Blida barracks. « There was a special room where they tortured, called al katela – the killing room, » Reda says. « It was like a morgue. We said ‘You gave shelter and food to terrorists. Tell us about them’. We drilled holes in their hands and bodies with an electric drill. We burned their beards. I did not do it personally, but we were a group. My role was to stand guard. » Some prisoners were sodomised with bottles, a method used by the French during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence. The chiffon or rag, another French torture in which the victim is forced to swallow salty or soapy water, acid or his own urine, was also used. « In the cells they were stripped naked. It was very cold, and from time to time we sprayed them with water . . .

« Three of them died: one when they drilled a hole in his stomach, two others from electric shocks when they put wires in their ears and anuses. » Reda and his unit took the dead torture victims back to Sidi Moussa. « If they wanted to bury them, their families had to pay us 50,000 dinars (£540). We gave them sealed coffins that they had to bury in our presence. We told them their men died of heart attacks, but they knew we killed them. » Reda briefly clicks a new set of false teeth out of his mouth with his tongue, to prove his only act of courage: « I hid some bread in my jacket and gave it to the detainees. They found out, and four men kicked my teeth in with their boots. They locked me up for a week. » Last June, Reda’s unit went out at midnight with a group of career soldiers who ordered them to wait on a ridge 3km above a small village. If they saw flares, the conscripts were to join the others, but they were not called in. « The next day, we heard that that 28 people had been beheaded in that place. I started to think that the soldiers were the killers. » Massacre survivors often report the killers look like Muslim fundamentalists. « Two days later, » Reda continues, « we were cleaning the barracks. My friend found a fake beard in one of the soldiers’ pockets. We also found musk perfume like the Islamists wear. » The incident convinced Reda that the military committed the massacre « to discredit the terrorists ». He also believes the army murdered 26 conscripts who were taken to another barracks in the mountains above Blida. « None of the full-time soldiers were hurt, » he says. « They brought the conscripts’ bodies back, and they said they died in a gunfight. Maybe they thought they talked too much. We knew they were killed – eliminated. » During a night-time gun battle in July, under the street lamps of Blida, Reda decided to run away. « I saw eight friends of mine dead around me. The terrorists saw me. They knew me. Some of them had been friends of mine in Algiers. They wore jeans and leather jackets. They shouted to me: ‘There are plenty of days left in the year. We will get you, Reda. Make provisions for your wife and child.’ I and three others dropped our Klashes and ran. » Like the majority of Algerians, Reda was threatened from both sides. « Now that I am a deserter, I am caught between two fires, » he says. « Between the terrorists and the military. » With his muscular body, short haircut and wearing a track-suit, Insp Abdessalam (37) looks like a cop. When the war started in 1992, he began sleeping at the police station at Dar El Baida, near Algiers airport. « Every day our friends were getting killed. We were terrorised. All the police were smoking hashish, taking drugs, wine, pills – anything not to think about the situation. When we went out to kill, we always took tablets. »