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France gets permission to exhume murdered monks

© AFP

Text by Anne-Diandra LOUARN

Latest update : 2013-11-29

FRANCE 24 has learned that the Algerian government has given a French judge the go-ahead to exhume the decapitated heads of a group of French monks who were killed in Algeria in 1996.

The mystery surrounding the death of seven French monks, murdered and decapitated in Algeria in 1996, may be closer to being solved thanks to the efforts of a French judge.

Marc Trévidic made a three-day visit to Algiers earlier this week as part of his investigation into the murders, after waiting almost two years for a visa from the Algerian government.

A source close to the case confirmed to FRANCE 24 that Trévidic, who returned from Algiers on Wednesday, had obtained authorisation to perform autopsies on the heads of the victims, whose bodies were never found. Trévidic will therefore return to Algeria with his own medical legal team to work alongside Algerian experts.

Contrary to several reports in the Algerian press, Trévidic did not obtain authorisation to interview the twenty or so witnesses in the case. These witnesses include both Algerian intelligence officials as well as several former and jailed Islamists.

No date has yet been fixed for the autopsies. Given the cold winter temperatures and the frozen ground, the exhumations are likely to be delayed until spring. Once the autopsies take place, investigators may be able to better establish a timeline for the murders, using science to answer key questions such as whether the monks were killed by decapitation or were decapitated post-mortem.

Kidnap and cover-up

A month before the monks died, the Islamist Group Army (GIA) claimed to have kidnapped them, asking for a ransom from the French government and threatening to decapitate the hostages. Though the GIA claimed responsibility for the murders 17 years later, Trévidic has questioned the original theory that Islamists were involved.

Since 2009, the official investigation has also considered the possibility that the murders occurred during a botched anti-terrorism raid. A retired French general alleged that Algerian army helicopters, hunting Islamist rebels, opened fire on a camp they spotted in the mountains and may have accidentally killed the imprisoned monks. One theory suggests that army staff decapitated the bodies to throw blame on the monks’ captors.

This allegation — alongside claims that the French government had also participated in the cover-up — rocketed the case into the political and media spotlight, prompting then French President Nicolas Sarkozy to call for justice.

“I want the truth. Relations between major countries are based on the truth and not lies,” he said.

Date created : 2013-11-28

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