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On the night of March 26-27th 1996, the monks were abducted from the Priory of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibehirine, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Algiers, by members of the insurgent Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA).Their heads were discovered two months later and their death was announced by the GIA.A president who’s allowed only two terms of office, an enlarged parliament, an “independent” to run the elections and an official presidential imprimatur on Tamazight, the language of Algeria’s Berber minority – all these may look good on paper.But in a country which is still recovering from the death of 250,000 of its citizens and soldiers in a ferocious 1990s civil war whose participants sometimes outdid Isis in their barbarity – the throat-cutting of babies was a speciality in mountain villages – the length of a president’s rule and the rights of an indigenous language aren’t quite as important as they seem. During the war, the Islamists – who morphed from being the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) into al-Qaeda – were confronted by an army and intelligence service whose use of torture was about as brutal as any in the Middle East.The Vatican said the monks were murdered in odium fidei, or out of hatred for the faith.The tragedy inspired a 2010 French film ' Des Hommes et des Dieux' (Of Gods and Men) starring Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale.Or – more likely if I read local journalist Nicholas Noe correctly – is the military “tearing itself apart”?

Had he died any earlier, the country's first president might never have made it into the anti-colonialist pantheon inhabited by more likeable characters like India's Jawaharlal Nehru or Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah. He had an autocratic streak and frequented all the wrong world leaders, like Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.“If you started talking, you are dead,” a GIA men told me at the time.“Because if you start giving information, they’ll go on to the end.” They often did.Ourabi’s imprisonment was for “destruction of military records” and “disobeying military orders”.Mediène said that his subordinate had operated with “passion” – we can imagine what that means – and complied with his duties as an officer. The first was obvious: just what was in those military records?

A skilled footballer, he briefly played in midfield for Olympique de Marseille.

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