Algeria: when violence and crime make good business
Ghania Khelifi - 30/06/2010
“Stealing the country is no big deal”
Amine Ferhat, 19 years old, sententiously states that “terrorism money is now brought to daylight. Go and see the families who had someone in the resistant movement, they are all rich today.” Like a lot of young people, Amine strongly believes that terrorism is a good business if one has repented on time. Like him, a large number of Algerians feel cheated by the outcome of the crisis. Thanks to the Reconciliation Act, those who took up arms after a sham repentance have benefited from allowances, housing and aids to the creation of businesses and even wage arrears for the period when they were at war against the state and the people. Everyone has a story of a terrorist who “became rich after his surrender” or the story of a “clever man” who highly invested in real estate in areas where violence raged in order to sell them today with a very high added value. Thanks to their post-war revelations, security services have confirmed the idea that terrorism was lucrative.
Thanks to the avowals of the repentant, we know that the money taken from victims of assassinations or kidnappings was used to purchase weapons but also to support the families of dead terrorists or those who are still in the maquis, to pay new recruits and above all, to re-inject this jackpot in real estate, smuggling and other juicy activities that enrich emirs. We still remember the strife and the bloody settling of scores between different terrorist groups and members of the same organisations about this manna. During his trial, a former AIS member (armed wing of the former FIS, Islamic Salvation Front ) had accused his leaders of breaking their promise of fair distribution of booty and of having invested the racketeering money in agriculture or commerce for their own benefit. Through investigations, the security services have discovered that certain families that had suddenly become rich had all at least a relative in the maquis. According to these same services, terrorist money is invested in acquiring coffee shops, clothing stores, baths, bookstores specialising in the sale of religious books and CD’s and in the import of food products.
As from 2004, armed groups have taken over “a different niche”, that of kidnapping. 375 persons were kidnapped in 2007, a phenomenon that would take such a magnitude to reach a rate of 15 kidnappings per month. “They (the terrorists) could not do anything alone, if they hadn’t people to help them invest” Kader notes pertinently. “They have friends everywhere, lawyers, notaries, people working in administration who help them out with documents.” All these billions earned thanks to the arms make youngsters dream in a country where “you’re not worth anything without money” and where the naïve or the poor are the ones to laud the values of knowledge and work. In Algeria, it is very easy to become rich if you have the necessary audacity and cynicism because no one controls the origin of wealth acquired in a few years not to say months. Given the legal system, money can buy everything including impunity. Convinced of all this, Amine Ferhat has “given up” his secondary school studies. He has learned the job of a pizzaïolo that he practices intermittently in Blida. Without hesitation, he states that if he could “he would do business like everyone but you have to have money to bribe”. For Kader Daballah, going to the maquis is another way of making fast money “you come back and you have an apartment, money. The more you have killed, the more money you have”. Their reactions on recent corruption affairs make you equally dizzy. Amine, Kader, Falla and Zahra know very well that theft is reprehensible but stealing the Government “is no big deal because it’s oil money, normally it’s our money. Government people are not ashamed to help themselves so…” The youngsters have even tried to pretend being tourists to racket motorists or extort money from businessmen but you cannot act like a criminal when you’re twenty years old and still hope to get by. Zahra, a law graduate continues to work for 7000DA (approximately 70 Euros), Kader loves to be the driver of an association; Amine “fiddles”, Fella is a clinician psychologist in a hospital as she has chosen this specialisation. Deep down, they don’t endeavour to be rich but just to live their youth.
(*) - The Islamic Salvation Front (Arabic: الجبهة الإسلامية للإنقاذ, al-Jabhah al-Islāmiyah lil-Inqādh ) (French: Front Islamique du Salut ) is an outlawed Islamist political party in Algeria.
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech