The Organisation of Young Free Algerians, death squadron of the DRS

Extract from Lounis Aggoun and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire's book 'Françalgérie, Crimes et mensonges d'Etat', La Découverte, Paris 2004.  

Since autumn 1993, whenever a soldier or a policeman on leave is murdered, young people from his neighborhood are often arrested and brutally killed the next night by mysterious commandos who sign themselves as OJAL (Organisation of Young Free Algerians) or OSSRA (Secret Organisation for the safeguard of the Algerian Republic).

According to the media, these groups are made up of young citizens who feel the need to eradicate all forms of Islamism from Algeria. To the Algerians who lived through the Independence War, the mysterious acronym OJAL reminds them of the Organization of the French Algerian Resistance (ORAF), a group of counter-terrorists created in December 1956 by the DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire / Territorial Surveillance Directorate) whose mission was to carry out terrorist attacks with the aim of quashing any hopes of political compromise. [1] Since its creation, the OJAL appears to work in the same way as the ORAF, the Triple A or Mano Negra - the South American equivalents which operated during the 1970s.  In the autumn of 1993, the OJAL sent death threats to eminent Islamists and then abducted Mohamed Tedjini Boudjelkha, a mathematics professor who had participated in the foundation of the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front). A couple of weeks later, it claimed to have abducted Cheikh Bouslimani.  In December 1993 the OJAL finally announced its aim to "rid Algerian society forever of the spectre of terrorism and those who keep it alive" in a way which strangely recalled the tactics of the French generals who attempted to carry out the same eradication.  According to the evidence collected by Amnesty International at the time, the OJAL acted "as one with the security forces" and a number of people killed by these same security forces had "received death threats some time beforehand from OJAL". [2]

In the spring of 1994, after the murder of a schoolgirl, which was much hyped in the media, and who according to the offical version had "refused to wear her hijab", the violence of the OJAL began to increase. On the 19th March, the AFP (Agence France Presse) received a note without a date from them which "warned the terrorists against possible murders of patriotic Algerian women", and vowed "to avenge every woman attacked for not wearing the chador by killing 20 veiled women and 20 fanatical, bearded men". [3] Ten days after this threat became national news two veiled schoolgirls were shot dead near a bus stop on the outskirts of Algiers. This provoked no Government reaction.

More recently, ex-members of the DRS (Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité / Algerian secret service) have confirmed that the OJAL was an elaborate cover-up for their own activities.  In September 2001, the ex-adjudant Abdelkader Tigha, sub-officer of the DRS who had deserted at the end of 1999, revealed that the acronym OJAL had been invented by the right-hand man of the CTRI ( Centre Territorial de Recherche et d'Investigation / Territorial Research and Investigation Centre) of Blida, Captain Abdelhafid Allouache [4] , and that it was subsequently used by other departments of the DRS as a cover in order to murder enemies with impunity.

According to Tigha, "in order to camouflage their roles in the executions in the best way", while simultaneously "awakening the fear of a threat as widespread as it was unstoppable", the official services would "make sure they left messages on the corpses in writing such as: "This is the fate of those who work with the GIA", signed by the OJAL". Tigha affirmed that the police and military were "well aware of what was going on" and that their job was to "collect and bury the corpses". [5]   This shocking confession was confirmed later by the ex-colonel Samraoui, who described a scene in 1995 involving Colonel Mohamed Benabdallah, officer of the Special Forces of the CCLAS (Centre de Commandement de la Lutte Antisubversive / Centre Command of the Antisubversive Fight.): "Colonel Benabdallah would be proud in my presence for being one of the men in charge of OJAL, death squadron of the DRS created under General Toufik [6] ."

Therefore by the spring of 1994, the OJAL had become used as a cover for a horrific killing which took place to the west of Algiers.

The Ténès Massacre

On 25 April 1994, on the coastal road linking Ténès to Algiers, a group of Islamists sprang an ambush on a military convoy. Afterwards, the public inquiry was published in 1995 by the same authors of the Livre blanc sur la répression en Algérie, an anthology of witness statements published in Geneva by supporters of the FIS, which was forbidden in France in August 1995 by a decree from the Ministry of the Interior. The ambush led to 16 deaths and 20 wounded military personnel. The attackers also seized their weapons. [7] For the high command of the army the affair was all the more serious because the area in which it had occurred was one where the army had little control. The Islamists had the power over the people, daily terrorist attacks took place against the most of the symbols of repression (the police, the gendarmerie, the military) and, according to some reports, and there was even talk of an "Islamic Army" being constituted in the region made up of around 3,000 men. [8]  

The day after the ambush, reinforcements were sent. Around three battalions arrived in the region of Ténès region with the protection of five helicopters. They combed the area within a radius of 30 to 50 km from the point of the ambush. In Ténès, units of the DRS Special Forces led punitive expeditions against Islamic families known in the region. During the night between the 28th and 29th April, bearded commandos with kachabias and bandanas around their foreheads with the inscription la Illaha ila Allah (There is no other God than God) carried out a large number of arrests "by knocking on doors, they said: "Open up, we are the ikhwas [the brothers, i.e. Islamists]", according to witnesses questioned at the time. [9]  

A couple of months after the operation, Lieutenant Habib Souaïdia of the Special Forces was able to speak with a couple of his former comrades, who confirmed the facts. As members of the 12th RPC (Regiment of the Para Commandos), one of the most fearful units of the Special Forces, they admitted that they had participated in the Ténès operation along with officers from the DRS. According to their statements, they would knock on the doors of "terrorist families [...] dressed as Islamists." After this, Habib Souaïdia says, "they killed every member of the family: men, women and children" [10] . According to these witnesses, the commandos killed more than 184 people in one week.  

The Ténès massacre, although not covered much in the Algerian media, was described in the Livre blanc sur la repression en Algérie. According to this book, many arrests had taken place in the Islamist douars in the Ténès region a couple of days after the ambush and heaps of corpses had been discovered in the El-Marsa sector, a town 45 km from Chlef: "On Wednesday 4th May 1994, the inhabitants of El-Marsa, [...] noticed that as the troops of the ANP [National Popular Army] departed, vultures were flew over the surrounding forests. That is how they discovered the piles of corpses of around 15 to 20 charred bodies piled up and tied together with wire. Most of the victims were faceless as their features had been burnt off on purpose.  Witnesses living in the forest reported seeing and hearing the chouhadas [martyrs] being burned at the stake. The torturers themselves could not stand their fearful cries and resorted to opening fire on them in order to end their agony. Other victims were found perched on top of trees. Some were even forked on branches. These chouahadas had been ejected from helicopters. The number of victims according to the first aid workers was 173 [11] .  

In December 2001, an army official who had been posted at Chlef contacted Algeria-Watch and confirmed that the countless inhabitants who were arrested in the Ténès region between the 25th and 29th April 1994 were gathered together and killed around 50 km from the city. According to him, the DRS commandos had "systematically tortured" 238 people before "burning them with gasoline in a large common pit" [12] . 

According to the authors of the Livre blanc sur la repression en Algérie, the responsibility for the massacre was claimed by the OJAL who plastered hundreds of posters on the walls of Ténès the very night of the arrests: "Signed 'OJAL Ténès section' , these posters were billed according to precise criteria in the neighborhoods where the military had murdered during the night as well as, impressively, on the walls of the schools and of the buildings which faced the barracks, the latter separated from the walls only by a very well-lit street guarded constantly by three sentries. These posters were clear announcements: "Death is the penalty to whoever assisted the terrorists in the slightest way". [13]  

The OJAL had therefore been used as the cover for a massacre committed by officers of the DRS and members of the 12th RPC. Following this incident and a subsequent serious Amnesty International report on the links between the OJAL and the security services [14] , the acronym was gradually abandoned in favour of the GIA, the Armed Islamic Group. Although the GIA is more complex than the OJAL (which is basically a federation of existing armed groups including real Islamists), it has kept some of its essential characteristics: serving as cover for the acts of violence of the Special Forces. In order to trick public opinion, the military involved in this dirty war dressed up more often as Islamists, in the same way as they had done in Ténès.  In May 1994, the method was again used in Bach-Djarah, in the suburbs of Algiers...

 

The "Afghan" killers of Colonel Tartag

One May morning in 1994, the inhabitants of Bach-Djarah, a suburb in Algiers, discovered with horror around a dozen corpses dead on their sidewalks. They belonged to people from the neighborhood. "I was there, when a lieutenant from Bach-Djarah announced in shock this collective murder to his superior at the Ministry of Defense", recounted Captain Ouguenoune. The superior replied: "What do the people in the street have to say about this?" "They suspect the Military Security" answered the lieutenant. "What an idea, they can't be serious, tell them that it was a gangland killing between terrorists." As soon as the soldier had left the room, the officer burst out laughing and said with satisfaction: "Bachir and his men have done some good work. I must phone him immediately and congratulate him". [15]  

The spokesman for the MAOL (Mouvement Algérien des officiers Libres / Algerian movement of the Free officers), who had gathered other published evidence, explains that one of Bachir's specials, a pseudonym for Colonel Athmane Tartag, head of the CPMI of Ben-Aknoun, was to "murder the Islamist families living in secret": "His men would come out at night, not in uniforms but dressed up as kachabias. [...] They would knock on the door of the family they wanted to punish and would murmer: "Open up, we are the brothers", they would then have access to the entire apartment and commit their crimes". [16]   The ex-colonel Samraoui, who had been previously a colleague of Colonel Tartag, revealed that the latter in July 1994 had declared about arrested suspects: "Why hand them over to justice when after three or six months they are freed once again and will attack us again? As soon as one of them falls into our hands, we cannot risk him going to prison! You see, we must help with the State finances! [17] "  

In this same spring of 1994, Colonel Tartag oversaw, along with General Smaïl Lamari, the DRS outposts in every military region, the famous "territorial centres for research and investigation" (CTRI, grouped the ex-CMI and CRI). The methods used were the same as those used in the CPMI, as the ex-lieutenant Habib Souaïdia recalled, who had been posted in Lakhdaria (ex-Palestro) at the time with the 25th reconnaissance unit. "Having gathered information in other sectors concerning the suspects within our region, he explained, [the men from the CPMI and the CTRI] came to arrest them with our help, then tortured them and executed them". [18]   Souaïdia confirmed that these men would dress up as Afghans in order make people believe they were Islamists from the GIA, and revealed that these methods meant there was also a lot of confusion amongst the security services: "The Palestro police did not know that they were from the military."  

In May 1994, the arrests in the Lakhdaria region increased. One evening, Souaïdia received the order to accompany the DRS officers on a mission. They had been growing their beards for 15 days. This, to Habib, meant they were preparing for a "dirty mission" where they would palm themselves off as terrorists: "Having reached the hamlet, they asked me to wait at the entrance of the village. I posted my men around the precariously built houses where very modest people lived. After three quarters of an hour, the four officials returned with five men. They were trembling as they walked in silence, as though they knew what awaited them, with their hands tied behind their backs with wire and a hood over their heads impeding them from seeing anything. As I returned to the police station, other colleagues, who had also been out with DRS officers, had come back with other prisoners." [19]  

In this case, as in Ténès, the arrested "suspects" were tortured, then executed, their corpses were burned, and their deaths then attributed to Islamists. In other cases the inhabitants of the villages are suspected for helping the Islamist resistance and are then simply massacred by the commandos of the Special Forces.



[1]       Roger FALIGOT and Pascal KROP, DST, Police Secrète, Flammarion, 1999, p.174

[2]       AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, Il faut mettre un terme à la répression et à la violence, 25 October 1994.

[3]       Ibid.

[4]       « Algérie: les revelations d'un déserteur de la SM », Nord-Sud Export, n°427 - 21 September 2001 .

[5]       Interview of Abdelkader Tigha for the documentary Services secrets : révélations sur un « vrai-faux » enlèvement, Canal + 1 December 2003

[6]       Mohammed Samraoui, Tales from the years of blood, Denoel 2003., p. 203-204.

 

[7]       Livre blanc sur la répression en Algérie, Hoggar 1995, pp.77-80.

[8]       Witness of an ANP officer who contacted Algeria-Watch in December 2001 (interview with one of the authors with Salima Mellah, in charge of the website <www.algeria-watch.org>).

[9]       Livre blanc sur la répression en Algérie, op. cit., p. 78.

[10]      Habib SOUAÏDIA, La Sale Guerre, La Découverte, 2001, p.116.

[11]      Livre blanc sur la répression en Algérie, op. cit., pp.77-80 (the French army had already thrown prisoners from helicopters during the Independence War)

[12]      After gathering this evidence, Algeria-Watch lost trace of its author, who, like the other army officers who have fled abroad after witnessing particularly serious crimes, seems to fear for his life (Salima MELLAH, interview with one of the authors).

[13]      Ibid., pp.77-80.

[14]      AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, Il faut mettre un terme à la répression et à la violence, op. cit

[15]      See the complete testimony of Captain Ouguenoune in "Ils soupçonnent la Sécurité militaire", Der Spiegel, 12 January 1998.

[16]      Ibid., Also see the testimony of renegade Adlane Chabane, El-Watan El-Arabi, 2 January 1998.

[17]      Mohammed SAMRAOUI, Chronique des années de sang, op.cit., p.200.

[18]      Habib SOUAÏDIA, La Sale Guerre, op. cit., p.109

[19]      Ibid., pp.112-113; also see Livre blanc sur la répression en Algérie, op.cit., p.83

 
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