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Martyrs of Atlas
Died May 21, 1996, Algeria
Martyred by Armed Islamic Group or regular Algerian Army[1]

On the night of 26-27 March 1996, seven monks from the monastery of Tibhirine in Algeria, belonging to the Roman Catholic Trappist Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (O.C.S.O.), were kidnapped in the Algerian Civil War. They were held for two months, and were found dead on 21 May 1996. The circumstances of their kidnapping and death remain controversial; the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) claims responsibility for both, but the then French military attaché, retired General Francois Buchwalter, reports that they were accidentally killed by the Algerian army in a rescue attempt, and claims have been made that the GIA itself was a catspaw of Algeria's secret services (DRS.)

Contents

Circumstances

At about 1:15 AM on 27 March 1996, about twenty armed men came to the monastery of Tibhirine and kidnapped seven monks. Two others, in separate rooms, escaped the kidnappers' notice. After the kidnappers left, the remaining monks attempted to contact the police, but found that the phone lines had been cut. Because of the curfew in force, they had to wait until morning to drive to the police station in Medea. On 18 April, the Armed Islamic Group's communique no. 43 demanded the release of Abdelhak Layada as the price of the monks' lives. On 30 April, a tape with the voices of the kidnapped monks, recorded on 20 April, was delivered to the French Embassy. On 23 May, the Armed Islamic Group's communique no. 44 reported that the Armed Islamic Group had killed the monks on 21 May. The Algerian government announced that their heads had been discovered on May 31; their bodies' whereabouts are unknown. Their funeral Mass was celebrated in the Catholic Cathedral of Algiers on Sunday, June 2. They were buried in the cemetery of their monastery at Tibhirine on June 4, 1996.[2]

The surviving monks of Tibhirine left Algeria, and have set up a monastery near Midelt in Morocco[3] with help from other Trappist monks.

The monks

All seven monks killed were of French nationality. They were: Dom Christian de Chergé, Brother Luc Dochier, Father Christophe Lebreton, Brother Michel Fleury, Father Bruno Lemarchand, Father Célestin Ringeard, and Brother Paul Favre-Miville.

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Disputes over killers' identity

In 2008, La Stampa reported that an anonymous high-ranking Western government official, then based in Algeria and in Finland at the time of writing, had told them that the kidnapping had been orchestrated by a DRS-infiltrated GIA group, and that the monks had then been killed accidentally by an Algerian military helicopter attacking the camp where they were being held captive.[4]

In 2009, the retired French general Francois Buchwalter, who was military attache in Algeria at the time, testified to a judge that the monks had accidentally been killed by a helicopter from the Algerian government during an attack on a guerrilla position, then beheaded after their death to make it appear as though the GIA had killed them.[5][6][7] Ex-GIA leader Abdelhak Layada, who was in prison when the monks were killed but was later freed under a national amnesty, responded by claiming that the GIA had indeed beheaded them after the breakdown of negotiations with the French secret services.[8]

External links

References

  1. ^ http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1908873,00.html
  2. ^ The death of the monks of Tibhirine: facts, questions, and hypotheses, by Armand Veilleux
  3. ^ Notre Dame de l'Atlas
  4. ^ "I monaci in Algeria uccisi dai militari"
  5. ^ Sarkozy to release details about beheaded monks in Algeria
  6. ^ Sarkozy accuse l’Algérie de mensonges
  7. ^ Algerian army accused in massacre of French monks
  8. ^ GIA executed French monks in Algeria in 1996: former chief

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