Algeria: The Slaughter of the Good and Bad
The real rulers in this country are a military who were
"blooded" in a civil war that taught them to care as little
for the innocent as they do for the guilty
By Robert Fisk
January 20, 2013 "The
-- The Algerian army, we were told by the usual suspects
this afternoon – on French television as well as in America
– “are not soft on terrorists” and had “expertise” in
“fighting terrorism”. Too true – but only half the truth.
Because they are not “soft” on hostages either. They are as
ruthless with captives as they are with captors.
The slaughter of the good and the bad at the In Amenas gas
plant yesterday was thus utterly predictable, because the
Algerian military – the real rulers of the nation – were
“blooded” in a civil war which taught them to care as little
about the innocent as they did about the guilty.
It was the Algerian military which sent intelligence
officers to Damascus in 1993 to learn how Hafez al-Assad
destroyed the Islamists of Hama 11 years earlier – and then
used the same tactics to liquidate Algeria's own Islamist
Word has it that Algerian officers visited Syria last year
to return the compliment: by teaching the Syrian military –
now fighting a far more dangerous uprising – how the
Algerians won their “dirty” war against the Armed Islamic
Group and its al-Qa'ida affiliates.
The Algerians lent their “expertise” to Tunisia's Ben Ali
just before his overthrow and offered the same to Mubarak's
goons in Egypt.
Opaque as Algeria's military may appear to foreigners, its
foundational myths – of utter brutality towards its enemies,
whatever the cost – have appealed to the Pentagon and to the
French, who both maintained their co-operation with the
army's elite at Cherchell outside Algiers in the 1990s –
when they knew full well that the country's soldiers and
paramilitary forces were indulging in an orgy of torture
against insurgents and civilians.
Three things were certain last night about the Algerian
bloodbath; that the Algerians will put the entire blame for
the killing of the hostages upon the al-Qa'ida-inspired
kidnappers, that the Western governments whose citizens died
will go along with this – and not utter a word of
condemnation of the Algerian military – and that by midday
today, the entire story will change out of all recognition.
Prime ministers, foreign ministers and newsdesks beware.
David Cameron's total ignorance of the Algerian government's
inherent cruelty led Downing Street to mutter some truly
stupid remarks today. The Algerians, they said, “seemed
determined to lead the way”.
You bet they did. Talking to hostage-takers is anathema to
them, at best a means to wear down kidnappers before
annihilating them. The country's Prime Minister, Abdelmalek
Sellal, is a bright, intelligent man who appeals to folk
like Cameron and François Hollande; laid-back,
well-educated, a doyen of the Algerian civil service. It's
thus easy to forget that Sellal was Minister of Interior
from 1998-99 when the Islamist rising was supposedly
One of his predecessors, Abderrahmane Meziane-Chérif, once
told me of his principles in dealing with “terrorists”. “A
farmer can be an eradicator when he pulls weeds from the
fields,” he said. “And sometimes a man has to purify water
and cleanse things of insects and bugs...” Meziane-Chérif
was called the “eradicateur”.
And yes, of course, the Islamists who took so many hostages
in Algeria were ultimately to blame for the massacre.
Neither side offers any quarter; thus hostages, bystanders,
civilians are “collateral damage” – yes, that hateful phrase
again – to both sides. Nor is that surprising.
For the real marriage of both al-Qa'ida and the Algerian
military started after the Russian occupation of
It is a largely secret story which even today has never been
fully revealed. Desperate to stem their losses, the Soviet
government asked their socialist Algerian allies for
intelligence help; and the Algerian intelligence services
dispatched their own men to Afghanistan to pose as
“mujahedin” alongside real Algerian Islamists fighting for
Osama bin Laden.
Information from these Algerian military spies allowed
Soviet forces to fight back.
But when the Russians left and the Algerians came home, the
army ordered their own men to remain undercover with the
Islamist groups. So when the terrible civil war began,
individual officers to keep their cover participated in the
massacre of civilians. And thus became contaminated by
atrocities. This is not a tale which the Algerian government
admits to. Nor will the West examine this grim history.
But the reality is that the real Cobras of the intelligence
world live within the Algerian military “pouvoir”.
By comparison, the Cobra in Downing Street – David Cameron's
famous security “committee” – is a humble and very sleepy
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