By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Once again, we drove to the Central Police Headquarters to get more plainclothesmen, and, with half a dozen or so escorts, walked from there over to the building that houses Samia's flat. While the others stood outside talking on their walkie-talkies, Moustafa escorted us up seven flights of stairs. He wouldn't let us take the elevator, lest we ride up into an ambush.
Once we had knocked, Moustafa went back to the street to wait with the others, leaving me feeling foolish - overprotected foreigners. Her family was relaxed. I felt more foolish. One side of the large, striking flat overlooked the Mediterranean, another the Casbah. We shot some video of the Casbah from a balcony until one of Samia's sisters came out and told us to come back in: "It is not good that the people down there should see a camera up here."
Moments after we went back in, there was a knock at the front door. Two men introduced themselves as plainclothes police. We told them that we had plenty of plainclothes police downstairs, waiting for us. "They have left. We are in charge of you now," they said. And suddenly, we felt panic: Moustafa, Djamal and Mohammed would never leave us. We'd heard that frequently, in this land of sudden terror and uncertainty, assassinations are committed by terrorists posing as police.
It took a few minutes to determine that the two men at the door were indeed police. They left, and we moved to the kitchen table to eat French toast. "That's how life is here," Samia explained. "Calm. Then frightening. Then calm." The family was once again animated and cheerful.
A while later, a friend dropped by who spoke no English. "We have asked her your question about what do terrorists look like," Samia said, laughing. "She has seen one. He looked very innocent." We asked for the details of how she came to see one. "It was when they came to attack her neighborhood a couple of weeks ago."
The friend, it turned out, lived in an outlying area, where greater Algiers meets the region known as the Triangle of Death. Whereas the government has been gaining control of Algiers, so that outside of poor areas like the Casbah ordinary people now only face the risk of a assassination and car bombs, out in the Triangle of Death, the skirmishes and massacres have been increasing.
The morning that we were supposed to visit the Triangle of Death, Moustafa, Djamal and Mohammed didn't show up. Instead, four green Land Rovers pulled up in front of our hotel carrying some 20 heavily armed military police in combat fatigues. It seemed we were going into combat. First we drove through the affluent hillside areas around our hotel, through beautiful neighborhoods of big white homes overlooking the Mediterranean. Then we turned onto a freeway and left the city. In the socio-economics of Algeria, as in many nations outside the U.S., the suburbs are less affluent than the city. It feels a little like driving, say, from the Hollywood Hills to Pacoima.
Less than an hour later, we were climbing out of our Land Rover at the edge of Sidi Rais, a village of substantial two- and three-story brick homes. Our police escorts had been joined by other military police and militiamen, already in the village. They fanned out in front of us, and we began to walk in.
The current wave of massacres began here one night at the end of summer. A group of men - perhaps 20, perhaps 100 - cut the power and phone lines and moved in, howling. The government puts the death toll at around 80; the villagers and hospital personnel estimate that as many as 500 people were massacred that night. Here, as elsewhere, most of the victims were women, children and old people, those who couldn't fight back.
We asked a group of boys if they had seen the attackers. "No," one answered. "They were dressed in black and had their heads covered. We ran. They shot at people's legs to make them fall. If they fell, they slit their throats."
The military police moved us through the village. We collected massacre stories. We saw a house where dozens of women and children had taken refuge, only to be hacked to death when the terrorists broke down the door. We met a 6-year-old boy whose parents had both been killed after they succeeded in hiding him. Not every house had been hit.
As we moved along, an occasional loud boom sounded in the distance, like that made by an outgoing artillery round. "Someone's shelling," I said to the lieutenant in charge of our party. "No," he replied without explanation. As we were leaving, children streamed past us, returning from school. They laughed and waved when they saw our camera. Maybe children recover quickly.
Twenty minutes farther down the road, we came to Bentalha, another massacre site. En route, we had to detour, because the military was conducting operations against the terrorists in the surrounding fields and orchards. Bentalha consists of mostly brand-new homes, some of them not completed. Its population now seems to consist only of men.