By Walid Ramzi
An Algerian military court recently ordered the temporary detention of 15 army personnel, including two officers, over the accidental killing of 41-year-old Mustapha Dial in the Kabylie town of Azazga.
“The suspects were referred to the military prosecution in the military court of Blida on July 3rd, 2011, which after hearing them, decided to remand them pending the completion of investigations and arraignment,” read a defence ministry statement issued July 4th.
The June 23rd incident in Tizi-Ouzou wilaya sparked a wave of anger among residents who staged several sits-in and a march. They demanded that the truth be told, perpetrators be prosecuted and the victim’s family be compensated.
The Algerian military prosecutor heard from 20 military personnel and referred the suspects to the investigating judge, who remanded 15 soldiers and accused them of murder.
A defence ministry statement issued shortly after the killing said it was a “mistake” made as troops chased after a terrorist group following a bomb attack. One soldier was killed and another wounded in the bombing, according to the defence ministry. The ministry expressed its “sincere condolences” for Dial’s passing.
Press accounts of the incident varied widely. According to one report, soldiers stormed a house where they shot Mustapha Dial after they came under attack by terrorists. Dial, a father of four children, worked as a security guard at a building owned by a war veteran. Soldiers allegedly chased him down and killed him as he sought help for his injury. Troops also searched two other houses.
For their part, the victim’s family said that the decision to remand the military personnel was a “judicial procedure”.
“All the family are impatiently waiting for the trial of those responsible for the killing of their son and for passing the necessary punishment against them,” Mr Rabeh, a relative of the Dial family in Souamaâ, told El Khabar.
Meanwhile, Souamaâ mayor Mohand Boukhetouche expressed his relief over the army command’s handling of the case and the speedy investigation. He said citizens reacted to the remanding of the soldiers with “a mixture of relief and caution”.
“The necessary legal actions have been taken. Therefore, let’s allow the military court to do its job by conducting its own investigations before bringing the defendants to a trial,” the mayor said.
Immediately after the incident, the victim’s family rejected the official version of events, with the victim’s brother saying that Mustapha Dial “was the victim of a criminal act”.
“They opened fire on them,” the brother said, noting that the wife of the building’s owner where Mustapha worked “tried hard to rescue him from the army elements and to convince them that he was a worker working for her husband, but she couldn’t”.
In addition, nurses and doctors at Azazga Hospital confirmed that army personnel “dealt violently with all those they found on their way around the hospital and inside it”.
The events prompted Tizi-Ouzou governor Abdelkader Bouazghi to move to the town of Azazga accompanied by provincial security services in an attempt to contain the situation. He extended his condolences to the family and to the residents of Azazga.
The governor also condemned the incident during a meeting with local elected officials and representatives of Azazga’s village committees. He promised “to shed light on what has happened and to bring those responsible to military court”. He also described the incident as “unacceptable” during a meeting with the dignitaries and elected officials of Azazga.