Article published on the 2009-07-07 Latest update 2009-07-07 14:46 TU
An undated photo features the seven Trappist monks from the monastery at Tibérihine in Algeria who were murdered in 1996
(Photo : AFP)
The Paris Prosecutor’s Office opened an inquiry into the incident in 2004 after a civil suit was filed by one of the victim’s families and a member of the monks’ order. They doubted the official French and Algerian position that the Trappist monks were killed by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).
On Monday, a source close to the investigation leaked remarks apparently made last month by General François Buchwalter, who was France’s military attaché in Algiers at the time.
According to the source, Buchwalter told investigators that the monks were killed after Algerian army helicopters fired on an Islamist camp near the monks’ monastery in Tibehirine, 70 kilometres south of Algiers.
The now-retired general said they realised after the attack that the monks were killed along with a number of the armed group.
The monks had been kidnapped in March 1996 and their heads - but not their bodies - were found two months later. According to the source, Buchwalter told investigators that the bodies were riddled with bullets. He said questions were now being raised as to whether the bodies were dismembered to avoid the bullets being identified as coming from army-issued weapons.
Buchwalter said an Algerian soldier whose brother took part in the attack told him about it. On hearing the story, he informed the French military Chief of Staff and the country’s ambassador to Algeria but the source said Buchwalter was told to remain silent to avoid damaging Franco-Algerian relations.
Patrick Baudouin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said on Monday that in the wake of the revelation he will ask that a number of people, including the French Foreign Minister and France’s ambassador to Algeria at the time, be questioned about the massacre.