Violence: It returns to Berriane

[See these posts, this article and their comments for some background.]

[See below for more updates.]

More violence broke out after prayers in Berriane this Friday afternoon. A verbal altercation between youths leaving their mosques became a physical scuffle which turned into a melee, with stones in the air and houses being lit on fire. Five homes and three businesses were set ablaze, with fourteen people being injured. The security forces dispersed the crowds of angry young men with tear gas. What caused the rumble is not mentioned in the news reports. More to come when more details come out. (Ennahar has a short English piece. AFP also has a short one.)

More: Le Matin reports that two people were killed and that 27 have been injured (other sources say 28). The article quotes an RCD statement from Friday evening condemning the security services for raising tensions in the area through their large and repressive presence, claiming that in recent weeks high school students have been “beaten without any action taken and with no arrest of the perpetrators who are often identified by the victims.” According to the statement, the gendarmes often face volleys of stones from local youths. It ends by quoting the same RCD statement which says that continuing clashes “leave the worst for nightfall”. Le Figaro quotes the same statement. The statement does not appear to be available on the RCD’s website. If readers can corroborate it in full (I assume it is originally in French), they are graciously encouraged to post it in the comments field or to email it to me. It attributes the violence to measures taken by the security services in an effort to divide the people of Berriane. Many from the area believe that local media has played a role in stoking tensions, and that officials have aided by allowing the violence to go on, hoping to benefit politically from the disruptions and sectarianism. Others link it to rival youth gangs

Ennahar is reporting the killing of the head of the municipal bureau in Berriane, 47-year-old Omar Karouchi, a member of the FFS (Socialist Forces Front, Ait Ahmed’s historic opposition party). It does not say how he was killed. Ennahar‘s piece is noteworthy for its comments field, where readers claiming to be residents say that the two residents who were killed were Mzabites. Others claim that the clashes were initiated by Mzabites throwing stones at Arabs and at the gendarme. Others blame the clashes on the preachers in the local mosques, who, these readers claim, are influenced by Salafism. What appear to be Mzabite readers accuse the paper of sensational bias. The events are commonly described here as “a mockery of God”.

Mzab News (which has its own FFS-oriented point of view) reports that the authorities have not intervened in violence between the areas two ethno-sectarian communities (Berber Mzabite Ibadites and Sunni-Maliki Chaamba Arabs). It writes that a 16-year-old youth was attacked in his home in the Haï Bab El Saad neighborhood. The attackers beat him severely and then took him to the roof, from which he was thrown to the street below. The attackers ran off, throwing stones. According to Mzab News, the five shops that were burned down were Mzabite owned and located on the town’s main road, across from both the town hall and police station. It asks why the security services

heavily based in the neighborhood, did not lift a finger?! The attacks continued for several hours … this experience of families living in the neighborhoods caused the terror of panic and great fear, as they called for help, but found no succor, and only after many long hours of this was there intervention by the national gendarmerie forces moving into the neighborhood [. . .] who was able to put an end to the barbaric and brutal the attackers, who roam about freely under the eyes of the police!!

The account is followed by a call to action: It tells Algerians to recognize “the seriousness of the situation and the enormity of the crimes and continuity and the possibility of transmission to other parts of the country,” demanding that the intellectual and activist classes “express their rejection [of the violence] by all peaceful means available” to “these infernal schemes” on the part of the security services. (See also this article, from the same site, on a strike that took place earlier in the month.)

Comments on TSA lament that the Algerian media focuses its attention on the upcoming elections and that there has been “no appeal for calm on the part of those who have beards who shouted when the Palestinians were massacred by the Jews in Ghaza. In the case of our compatriots, they say nothing. Maybe they are not aware. They do not live with these people,” comparing the violence in Berriane to the riots that shook Kabylia in 2001. TSA reports that 18 homes and businesses were set on fire.

L’Expression describes Berriane as “a powder keg, a volcano even” and recommends a national panel of sociologists and experts to investigate the problems facing Berriane.

El Watan‘s article on the violence is not accessible at the moment (“Site en travaux“) reports that “troublemakers were arrested.”

Update: El Khabar reports on what is now a weekend of rioting. It report is more detailed than most. It quotes a member of the local municipal council as saying that around 40 shops and homes were destroyed in the violence and that 5 men were arrested. It relates a story similar to Mzab News‘s in which a 16-year-old is assaulted in his home, El Khabar describes them as “masked men”, taken to the roof of his own home and dropped to his death on the street. This took place in the Baba Saad district, according to the article, and he was the first to die. Several residents killed were shot with hunting rifles. A 48-year-old man was shot and killed as well. El Khabar quotes medical sources as saying that 4 people have been seriously wounded, with half of them listed as “critical.” 3 policemen suffered serious head wounds and 2 gendarmes were “seriously injured”.  The number of residents wounded over all is high: 42 to the time of the article’s release; 30 were wounded in the riot’s first 6 hours. “the majority of the wounded were injured by groups of adolescents and young people throwing stones.” Everyone claims to have been acting in his own self defense, the article writes.

The article is concurrent with other reports that before Friday, violence was on the rise, with violent confrontations between youths taking place “at least 3 times a week,” while the security services, who are in large number in Berriane, refused to let “the law take its course” by intervening. On Friday, it is written, violence broke out — over what it is not said — and went on for sometime before the police and gendarme intervened, intensifying the situation. The police and gendarmes used batons and tear gas to push back and subdue the mobs of angry young men. A curfew is being imposed and reenforcements from the national gendarme and from Sidi Bel Abbes and neighboring Ouargla provinces. Because of Berriane’s strategic location (it is one of the first settlements in Ghardaia provice and a major Saharan road runs through the town’s center), the article notes, the government is keen to beefing up security.

El Watan describes the area as being “on the verge of civil war” between Mzabites and Malikites. Its version of events is somewhat different than El Khabar‘s. A Mzabite, “circulating in the Boudouaya quarter,” was burned by a molotov cocktail. Youths responsed to the attack with stones. The police moved to intervene, angering the belligerents further and causing both sides to attack the police. To stave off the advance of youths, the police used tear gas. “A different attitude would have lead to a bloodbath.” (Perhaps an allusion to the riots of 2001, which can be described as little else than a bloodbath.) El Watan describes the town as being in a “terrible psycosis,” with “everthing wreaking of tear gas” — “everywhere where stones were thrown, the police responded with tear gas”. Damage to property was perpetrated not only on Friday and Saturday, but also on Sunday (homes were burned). It writes that the violence was prevaliment on Hay Saraâf and Rue de l’Indépendance.

Worrying is El Watan‘s description of the police’s use of tear gas. As in 2001, when police broke into residences and deployed tear gas or beat women and children, gas was shot into homes, causing “dozens of women and children” to barely escape suffocation. From the report, it appears that along with billowing smoke from burning homes, tear was dominant and could be smelled throughout the town. The reporter’s movement was restricted by the police and when they got to where they wanted to go ( Rue de l’Indépendance), they were told by a hooded man to write that “there was death before the police intervened” and that “the police are complicit in this conflict”. A Mzabite told the reporter that a police officer gave an Arab youth tear gas. They accuse “the Malikites” of storming into cemetaries and descrating them. In the hospital, wounded and bloodied youths said that they were victims of hogra, violent contempt from state institutions, and that “we sympathize with the people of Gaza but the state treats us like the Jews”. Wounded youths told the reporter that “we want our human rights protected.” An Arabophone woman cried to the reporter: “I have nothing left. My house has burned down … I am neither Malikite nor Mzabite. I am against all of this. What have I done to deserve this?” “Her husband could not contain her rage,” the article notes. Importantly, a wounded youth told the reporter not use the terms “Malikite” or “Ibadite” in his article, because “in this way you only pour oil on the fire.”

Liberte also reports that residents expressed weariness with ethnic conflict: One resident whose home was burned down said “I am an Algerian and I with my family have the right to protection,” adding that “even if I leave [this place] I have nowhere to go, we lost everything in the fire but our misery continues …”

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