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 Friday, 11 January, 2002, 13:46 GMT
Algeria's decade of bloody conflict
Algerian Islamic fundamentalists at prayer
Islamists won popular support in the 1992 vote
By the BBC's Heba Saleh

It is exactly 10 years since the Algerian army intervened in an election to prevent an Islamist party from winning.

Algerians had voted massively for the Islamic Salvation Front, but high-ranking generals cancelled the second round of the parliamentary election and then banned the group.

The move launched a bloodstained chapter in Algerian history that has yet to be closed. In the last decade at least 100,000 Algerians have been killed in political violence involving armed Islamists and the security forces.

The violence has declined in the last three years, but killings continue to be reported almost on a daily basis.

The Islamic Salvation Front or FIS was formed in 1989 when Algeria started its experiment with pluralist politics.

Algerians were galvanised by the mixture of religion and populism preached by the FIS.

They were tired of what they saw as an arrogant and corrupt regime. After the first round of parliamentary elections in December 1991, a FIS landslide victory looked inevitable until the generals stepped in and put an end to the process.

Popular leader

To provide a veneer of legitimacy, they appointed as president Mohammed Boudiaf - one of the heroes of the independence war against France.

Mr Boudiaf was extremely popular, but within six months he had been assassinated. An Islamist member of his guard was convicted, but it is widely believed in Algeria that the killing was ordered by powerful military and intelligence figures.

Whatever the case, that killing seemed to set the tone for much of what came later. Doubts surrounding responsibility for particular acts of violence have resurfaced time and again in the last decade.
Body carried by Algerian police
Both the military and the radical Islamists are accused of killing civilians

There have been allegations, some from regime insiders, that certain political assassinations and even some of the massacres against civilians blamed on Islamists were indeed the work of elements of the security services.

Experts say the secretive army clique which holds power in Algeria has often been involved in internal power struggles which account for some of the violence.

The killing of President Boudiaf also accelerated Algeria's descent into chaos.

A military regime that lacked legitimacy battled ferociously against radical Islamists who had taken up arms.

Both sides committed atrocities against civilians who were caught in the middle. Human rights groups have accused the two sides of killings, kidnappings, disappearances and massacres.

Western reaction

Some in the legal Algerian opposition such as Hocine Ait Ahmed, leader of the Socialist Forces Front, have repeatedly called for Western pressure to force a democratic solution.

But Europe and the United States have been disinclined to heed such calls.

Algeria provides a large proportion of the natural gas consumed by Europe and it has benefited from the protection of France - the former colonial power - whenever its human rights record came up for scrutiny.

Algeria's senior generals have managed to remain the real powerbrokers behind a fašade of institutions erected after carefully controlled elections.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Bouteflika offered militants amnesty in exchange for peace

They installed their latest president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 1999. He offered an amnesty to Islamic militants who laid down their arms.

It was eventually taken up by the armed wing of FIS. The amnesty was welcomed abroad where it was instrumental in improving the image of the Algerian authorities and ending the country's diplomatic isolation.

But Mr Bouteflika's offer was rejected by two militant groups.

The Salafist Group for Predication and Combat (GSPC) is led by Hassan Hattab and operates mainly in eastern Algeria. It focuses its attacks on military targets, and is not believed to be implicated in the killing of civilians.

The other faction to reject the offer is the shadowy armed Islamic group or GIA. It has been accused of most of the atrocities against civilians.

Analysts and some defectors from the security forces allege that it has been manipulated, at least some of the time, by Algerian intelligence.


In the last 10 years, popular discontent has risen, as the authorities manipulated elections and maintained a heavy grip on society.

Long-standing social and economic problems have deepened causing anger to boil over last summer in the Berber speaking region of Kabylia and in other parts of the country.

Demonstrations in Kabylia were ruthlessly put down by the security forces who shot dead scores of youths protesting against abuses by local and military officials.

Human rights groups continue to agitate unsuccessfully for pressure on the Algerian regime. But now in the wake of 11 September, the country's military-backed rulers are riding high.

They argue that their actions against the Islamists 10 years ago have been vindicated.

Judging from the recent warm diplomatic exchanges between Algiers and Western capitals, it seems that Europe and the United States agree.

Islamist uprising

Berber struggle

Economic hardship

See also:

06 Dec 01 | Middle East
15 Oct 01 | Middle East
18 Sep 01 | Middle East
04 Oct 01 | Middle East
23 Jul 01 | Middle East
03 Oct 01 | Country profiles
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