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The Crackdown on the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)

While denouncing the new regime as unconstitutional and urging civilians and soldiers not to recognize its authority, senior FIS officials urged calm and avoided calls for violence in their statements and communiqués.  In a sermon at ash-Shafi' mosque in suburban Algiers on January 14, Hachani vowed that the "FIS will remain within the legal framework without renouncing its plan for an Islamic state."  He called on Algerians to "keep calm," while urging them "to defend their choice and plans, and to reject all plots attempting to hijack their will and delay the process of change."7

The following day, Hachani insisted at a press conference that his party would "pursue the implementation of its program in a peaceful manner and reject the use of violence," adding that there was no question of abandoning "its plan to install an Islamic state."8  The appeal for calm continued through the end of the month.  Hachani told worshippers at the Friday prayer January 17: "I ask you for vigilance and to avoid all provocation."9  Following Hachani's arrest, FIS foreign affairs spokesman Rabah Kebir called on the faithful on January 24 to "pray in calm, go out again in calm, and to give no one the opportunity to rejoice in the misfortune of a Muslim."10

While the leadership carefully avoided explicit calls for violence, there were clearly splits within the FIS about tactics.  Scattered confrontations with security forces began two days after the cancellation of the elections, and escalated as it became apparent that the government's aim was to decapitate the leadership of the FIS and destroy the party as a political force.

On January 14, security forces carried out the first mass arrests of FIS members and supporters since the cancellation of elections.  The Police announced the following day the arrest of 133 persons "in Afghan dress" -- the nickname for the loose-fitting white tunics favored by FIS members -- near ash-Shafi' mosque outside Algiers for "acts of intimidation and ostentatious provocations."11  Security forces set up checkpoints to turn back or detain men who, on the basis of their appearance, they suspected of heading toward the main FIS-controlled mosques.  They stopped pedestrians, and removed passengers from automobiles and buses.

Many of those arrested were later released without charge.  Algerian law allows the police to hold a person for investigative purposes for 48 hours; after that period, they can obtain one 48-hour extension from a state prosecutor.  However, with Thursday and Friday considered holidays, persons arrested on Wednesday night do not have to be brought before a prosecutor until Sunday.

The regime also moved to challenge FIS control over the thousands of mosques that are not under state control.  A published report that clearly expressed the official view stated, "It is contrary to the law and the wishes of the majority of the faithful that the 5,000 or so mosques that do not have accredited preachers have become veritable propaganda centers and official headquarters of the FIS."12

Several decrees were issued by national and local officials restricting activities at mosques.  On January 22, the governor of Algiers banned all street gatherings, targeting the practice of worshippers filling the streets adjacent to mosques to hear sermons broadcast on loudspeakers.13  On the same day, the regime announced a ban on all "political" activities in mosques.  Police unplugged or removed the outdoor speakers from numerous mosques, and troops armed with tear gas and live ammunition ringed the surrounding streets to enforce the ban on gatherings.

Enforcement of the new decrees led to massive arrests of FIS clerics, members and sympathizers, as well as to an increase in clashes.  In Algiers, Constantine, Oran, Batna and other cities, security forces arrested pro-FIS imams after sermons that were deemed objectionable.  A total of 42 FIS imams were arrested between January 17 and 25 and remanded in custody, according to the police.14  Others went into hiding.  The government appointed clerics to fill some of the empty pulpits.  At as-Sunna mosque in the Bab al-Oued neighborhood of Algiers, one of the two preeminent FIS pulpits, the FIS imam went into hiding at the end of January and was replaced by a government-appointed preacher.  The FIS imam, Abdelkader Moghni, had been elected to represent Bab al-Oued in the December elections.  He was reportedly arrested on February 7.

Almost daily, the police reported the arrest of FIS imams for delivering "inciting" or "insulting" sermons.  On January 18, an imam in al-Maitar, near Boussaada, a city 150 miles southeast of Algiers, was arrested for "inciting citizens from the mosque to rebel against institutions of the state," according to the police.15  In Dar al-Baidha on the outskirts of the capital, security forces arrested an imam on January 31 for delivering "virulent sermons and statements insulting and attacking institutions of the state and its senior officials."16

Resistance to the operations of the security forces intensified. The first fatal clash since the cancellation of elections occurred on January 29 in the capital, when security forces attempted to prevent what an official statement described as "a political meeting" in an-Nasr mosque.  The Algérie Presse Service reported one death, while the FIS reported two.  Far more serious violence broke out the following week in Batna, when security forces battled Islamists protesting the imprisonment of two imams convicted for "incitement to rebellion and using places of worship for political ends."   Medical sources reported more than 20 killed and 100 wounded in Batna between February 4 and 7; official sources put the numbers at 13 killed and 66 wounded.17

[7] Agence France-Presse, January 15, 1992.

[8] El-Watan, January 16, 1992.

[9] Youssef M. Ibrahim, "Fundamentalists in Algeria Ask Followers to Stay Calm," The New York Times, January 18, 1992.

[10] Agence France-Presse, January 24, 1992.

[11] El-Watan, January 16, 1992.

[12] El-Moudjahid, January 22 and 23, 1992, cited in Marc Yared, "Algérie: Bataille contre les islamistes," Jeune Afrique, January 30, 1992.  Some estimates have placed the number of mosques under FIS control as high as 8,000 out of a total of 10,000 in Algeria.  Francis Ghilès, "Algeria Again at the Crossroads," Middle East International, January 24, 1992.

[13] The governor's decree stated:

areas around mosques and the roads and streets adjacent to them cannot under any circumstances be used as an extension of the mosques themselves.  Any manifestation [demonstration] around mosques is absolutely prohibited, whatever the day or the hour.  The use of public streets, sidewalks, roads, public squares, spaces, and slip roads is exclusively reserved for the traffic of pedestrians and vehicles.  Any request to occupy public places should be submitted for the prior authorization of the governor. [Algiers Radio in French, as reported in FBIS, January 23, 1992.]

[14] Agence France-Presse, February 3, 1992.

[15] Agence France-Presse, January 20, 1992.

[16] Al-Hayat, February 2, 1992 and le Monde, February 2-3, 1992

[17] José Garçon, "Le FIS déclare la guérilla au pouvoir," Libération, February 8-9, 1992; Georges Marion, "Les violences ont gagné de nombreuses villes d'Algérie," le Monde, February 9-10, 1992.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>February 1992