Robert Fisk: Brutalised Algerian army is as ruthless with the innocent as it is with its enemies
The Algerian army, we were told by the usual suspects yesterday 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 el-Assad destroyed the Islamists of Hama 11 years earlier – and then used the same tactics to liquidate Algeria's own Islamist insurgency.
Word has it that Algerian officers last year visited Syria 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.
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 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 remark's yesterday. 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.
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" to both sides.(© Independent News Service)