Tibhirine revisited

The killing, in 1996, of seven Trappist monks in Tibhirine (also spelled Tibéhirine in French), Algeria, made it again to the front page of  many Algerian and French newspapers this past week.  According to French newspapers (Le Figaro, Le Monde, Le Point), retired General François Buchwalter, former military attaché at the French embassy in Algiers, testified under oath that he had learned from an Algerian officer that the monks were killed, in what amounted to a military blunder, by Algerian armed forces.  Buchwalter further claims that he reported the information to his superiors and was asked to keep things quiet. This information was published a year ago in La Stampa (French version), but the author referred to an unnamed high-ranking source and it is not known whether Buchwalter is that source.

Until now, the official narrative of the event has always been that the monks were kidnapped and killed by the Armed Islamic Group (better know by its acronym in French, GIA, Groupe Islamique Armé ).  The GIA had been in secret negotiations with the French embassy to obtain the release of one of its leaders, Abdelhak Layada, who had been sentenced to death in 1995 (he was released in 2006 under the Charter for Peace and  National Reconciliation.) When the negotiations broke down, the GIA beheaded the monks (their bodies were never recovered)  and claimed responsibility for the assassination. More details can be obtained in John Kiser’s book or this Wikipedia entry (in French.) However, subsequent  massacres carried out by the GIA and other groups led to the emergence of an alternative story.  It was rumored that the GIA was in fact infiltrated and manipulated, as counter-insurgency technique, by the Algerian military who was trying to rally Algerian and international public opinion to its side in its fight against Muslim extremists.  “Qui tue qui?” (“Who kills whom?” ) became a popular catch phrase in the late nineties to express doubts about the version of events presented by the Algerian government.

The reports by the French media did not generate an immediate official response from Algeria, but newspapers there were quick to dismiss the allegations, describing them as “science fiction” , and “ramblings” by a “delusional” general.  French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s promise to release classified documents and let the justice department do its work to fully investigate the story, fueled suspicions that General Buchwalter’s testimony was part of a deliberate plan.  On the one hand, this could be viewed as a purely internal French affair. Sarkozy’s effort to re-organize France’s secret services has met some resistance, and these revelations, which could also implicate his predecessor, could strengthen his position. On the other hand, Sarkozy’s comment that these revelations would not affect his relations with the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was viewed as evidence that this whole affair could be part of an attempt to weaken Ahmed Ouyahia, the current prime minister, who already occupied this position in 1996.  Ouyahia, who is widely believed to be a potential successor of Bouteflika, is viewed with suspicion by Paris where some of his decisions concerning foreign investments have been well received.  This story, with its possible impact on the Algerian military, could also play in the hands of Bouteflika who has been engaged in a constant tug-of-war with the military leadership. It could also explain the lack of official reaction by the government. Yesterday, in step with press reports, Abdelaziz Ziari, president of national assembly, accused unspecified parties of trying to revive the famous “Qui tue qui?”, but Ouyahia, who had just met Sarkozy at the G8 summit in Italy, refused to comment.  It was announced today, that the national TV network will broadcast, on Monday, a special report with interviews of  Hervé de Charrette, former French foreign minister and Yves Bonnet, former head of the  French intelligence agency DST.

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One response to “Tibhirine revisited

  1. PRESS RELEASE
    Paris, March 23, 2009

    – Criminal Court Referral –
    Jean-Baptiste Rivoire Indicted for
    Premeditated Voluntary Violence – First Hearing on October 1st, 2009, Paris Court of Justice

    Five years after the death of grand reporter Didier Contant, on February 5, the Parisian judge, Patrick Ramaël, who has been investigating into the circumstances of his death, ordered the indictment of journalist Jean-Baptiste RIVOIRE before the Correctional Court of Paris for premeditated voluntary violence.
    This quarrel between journalists have thus far not attracted the attention it deserves; yet this strange case goes far beyond a mere professional rivalry:
    Rivoire and Contant were both investigating into the the death in 1996 of the Monks of Tibhirine.

    In January 2004, Didier Contant, who had published a first article in Le Figaro Magazine, was preparing to publish a new article that would have totally contradicted the thesis of Rivoire.

    During his last investigation, the reporter had found new witnesses stating that the monks had been killed by the GIA, and he had gathered evidence casting doubts on the credibility of Abdelkader Tigha. However, the investigation of Rivoire relied heavily on the statements of the latter, a sub-officer deserter from the Algerian army, who accused the army of being responsible for the murder of the Tibhirine monks.

    The revelations of Tigha have been widely exploited by a number of people with keen interest in the situation in Algeria and who have been accusing the Algerian government for several years without qualification of manipulating Islamist terrorism.

    With the intention of preventing any further publication by his colleague, Jean-Baptiste Rivoire contacted several Parisian editorial offices invoking reliable sources to accuse Didier Contant of being an Algerian and French secret service agent.

    Several journalists heard by the judge Ramaël confirmed having witnessed Rivoire’s accusations, as well as the serious nature of such a foil, which inevitably condemns the targeted person to a total loss of credibility and to his professional death…

    Didier Contant not bear to be slandered and attacked in his professional integrity in this way.

    Four years ago, Rina Sherman, Contant’s companion, filed a criminal suit. She has since published her own investigation in a book entitled “The Eighth Death of Tibhirine”* as well as in a film, “Paris of my exiles.”

    The inquiry has now fully confirmed the allegations against Jean-Baptiste Rivoire.

    A reporter voluntarily sets out to manipulate information, creates a vile calumny, diffuses it in professional circles where no-one bothers to cross-check his information, the victim pays the price… That was the Contant case.

    With this referral to the criminal court, one can henceforth refer to the Rivoire case.

    – Éditions Tatamis, Paris, 2007

    – Lazhari Labter Éditions & Le soir d’Algérie, Alger, 2007

    Le huitième mort de Tibhirine will be published in Arab in 2009 by Lazhari Labter Éditions in Algiers.

    Paris of My Exiles

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