Algeria orders probe into mob lynching of man linked to deadly wildfires

The Algerian authorities had earlier said they suspected arson after so many fires erupted in such a short space of time.
The Algerian authorities had earlier said they suspected arson after so many fires erupted in such a short space of time. © Ryad Kramdi, AFP

An Algerian prosecutor has ordered an investigation into the death of a man who was lynched by a mob after being accused of setting fires that devastated the region, Algeria's official APS news agency said.


Wildfires in Algeria have killed at least 71 people since Monday, according to the latest official toll.

The lynching took place in Larbaa Nath Irathen, in the Tizi Ouzou district, one of the worst hit by the fires. The victim was identified as 38-year-old Djamel Ben Ismail.

The local prosecutor issued a statement carried by APS on Thursday “following videos on Wednesday on social media showing the killing of a citizen [burned to death and lynched]”.

He ordered an investigation into the case with the aim of identifying the assailants and sending them to trial “so that the odious crime does not go unpunished”.

The statement said a crowd violently attacked the police station where the victim was under protection from officers and managed to remove him. They “dragged him outside, beating and burning him, which led to his death”.

“Police officers who intervened to protect and help the victim have also been injured,” the statement said.

Amnesty International called on Algerian authorities to immediately investigate the death and “send a clear message that this violence won't go unpunished”.

Ben Ismail was buried late Thursday evening in his hometown of Khemis Miliana, 115km west of Algiers.

“Do you realise, even dead they tortured him?” Mohamed Khalfi, Ben Ismail’s maternal uncle, told the Associated Press. "And what hurts me is that the people filmed ... I am his uncle and I ask that justice do its job and that even those who watched without doing anything be judged.”

One of Ben Ismail's friends, Rafik, who did not provide his last name, said he was “an artist, a young man who loves the guitar and loves life... not a violent man”.

Progress made on blazes

Firefighters made headway on Friday against the wildfires that have raged across northern Algeria for days, as the North African country observed a second day of national mourning for those killed in the fires, with prayers held at mosques after the weekly Friday services.

Fire crews backed by army engineers and civilian volunteers were still battling 51 wildfires across 16 provinces, emergency services said, but only three in the worst-hit province of Tizi Ouzou.

Blazes were still burning in some areas, including Bejaia, another province of the mainly Berber Kabylie region that extends along the Mediterranean coast east of the capital Algiers, and El Taref, a sparsely populated province that borders Tunisia.

Seasonal wildfires are nothing new in Algeria, but this time high winds fuelled the rapid spread of flames in tinder-dry conditions created by a heatwave across North Africa and the wider Mediterranean.

Meteorologists expect the regional heatwave to continue until the end of the week, after temperatures in Algeria reached 50C (122F).

France and other countries have offered support, including firefighting aircraft.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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