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Profile: Ali Touchent
Ali Touchent was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) logo. [Source: Public domain]The Italian government hosts a meeting in Rome of Algerian political parties, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose probable election win was halted by an army coup in 1992 (see January 11, 1992). Eight political parties representing 80 percent of the vote in the last multi-party election agree on a common platform brokered by the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, Italy, known as the Sant’Egidio Platform. The militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) is the only significant opposition force not to participate in the agreement. The parties agree to a national conference that would precede new multi-party elections. They call for an inquiry into the violence in Algeria, a return to constitutional rule, and the end of the army’s involvement in politics. The Independent notes the agreement “[does] much to bridge the enmity between religious and lay parties and, most significantly, pushe[s] the FIS for the first time into an unequivocal declaration of democratic values.” French President Francois Mitterrand soon proposes a European Union peace initiative to end the fighting in Algeria, but the Algerian government responds by recalling its ambassador to France. [Independent, 2/5/1995] The Washington Post notes that the agreement “demonstrate[s] a growing alliance between the Islamic militants [such as the GIA], waging a deadly underground war with government security forces, and the National Liberation Front,” Algeria’s ruling party, as both are opposed to peace with the FIS and other opposition parties. [Washington Post, 1/14/1995] The Guardian will later report that these peace overtures “left [Algeria’s] generals in an untenable position. In their desperation, and with the help of the DRS [Algeria’s intelligence agency], they hatched a plot to prevent French politicians from ever again withdrawing support for the military junta.” The GIA is heavily infilrated by Algerian government moles at this time and even the GIA’s top leader, Djamel Zitouni, is apparently working for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Some GIA moles are turned into agent provocateurs. GIA leader Ali Touchent, who the Guardian will say is one of the Algerian moles, begins planning attacks in France in order to turn French public opinion against the Algerian opposition and in favor of the ruling Algerian government (see July-October 1995). The GIA also plots against some of the FIS’s leaders living in Europe. [Guardian, 9/8/2005]
A Paris subway car bombed in 1995. [Source: Associated Press]Ten French citizens die and more than two hundred are injured in a series of attacks in France from July to October 1995. Most of the attacks are caused by the explosion of rudimentary bombs in the Paris subway. The deaths are blamed on the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) Algerian militant group. Some members of the banned Algerian opposition Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) living in exile in France are killed as well. For instance, high-level FIS leader Abdelbaki Sahraoui is assassinated on July 11, 1995. The GIA takes credit for these acts. The attacks mobilize French public opinion against the Islamic opposition in Algerian and causes the French government to abandon its support for recent Algerian peace plans put forth by a united opposition front (see January 13,1995). [BBC, 10/30/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 171, 316-317; Guardian, 9/8/2005] However, in September 1995, French Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debré says, “It cannot be excluded that Algerian intelligence may have been implicated” in the first bombing, which hit the Saint-Michel subway stop in Paris on July 25 and killed eight. [BBC, 10/31/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 316-317] And as time goes on, Algerian officials defect and blame Algerian intelligence for sponsoring all the attacks. Ali Touchent is said to be the GIA leader organizing the attacks (see January 13,1995). But Mohammed Samraoui, former deputy chief of the Algerian army’s counterintelligence unit, will later claim that Touchent was an Algerian intelligence “agent tasked with infiltrating Islamist ranks abroad and the French knew it.” But he adds the French “probably did not suspect their Algerian counterparts were prepared to go so far.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 316-317] A long-time Algerian secret agent known only by the codename Yussuf-Joseph who defected to Britain will later claim that the bombings in France were supported by Algerian intelligence in order to turn French public opinion against the Islamic opposition in Algeria. He says that intelligence agents went sent to France by General Smain Lamari, head of the Algerian counterintelligence department, to directly organize at least two of the French bombings. The operational leader was actually Colonel Souames Mahmoud, head of the intelligence at the Algerian Embassy in Paris. [Observer, 11/9/1997] In 2002, a French television station will air a 90-minute documentary tying the bombings to Algerian intelligence. In the wake of the broadcast, Alain Marsaud, French counterintelligence coordinator in the 1980s, will say, “State terrorism uses screen organizations. In this case, [the GIA was] a screen organization in the hands of the Algerian security services… it was a screen to hold France hostage.” [New Zealand Listener, 2/14/2004]
A photo montage of the seven murdered monks from Tibhirine. [Source: Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance] (click image to enlarge)On March 26, 1996, a group of armed men break into a Trappist monastery in the remote mountain region of Tibhirine, Algeria, and kidnap seven of the nine monks living there. They are held hostage for two months and then Djamel Zitouni, head of the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), announces that they were all killed on May 21, 1996. The French government and the Roman Catholic church state the GIA is to blame. But years later, Abdelkhader Tigha, former head of Algeria’s military security, will claim the kidnapping was planned by Algerian officials to get the monks out of a highly contested area. He says government agents kidnapped the monks and then handed them to a double agent in the GIA. But the plan went awry and the militants assigned to carry it out killed the monks. Furthermore, it will later be alleged that Zitouni was a mole for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). [Independent, 12/24/2002; United Press International, 8/20/2004] In 2004, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will reopen the controversy when he says of the monks’ deaths, “Not all truth is good to say when [the issue is still] hot.” [United Press International, 8/20/2004] He will also say, “Don’t forget that the army saved Algeria. Whatever the deviations there may have been, and there were some, just because you have some rotten tomatoes you do not throw all of them away.” [Daily Telegraph, 4/7/2004]
Omar Nasiri, an operative who informs on groups related to al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), sees Ali Touchent, a key member of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London. British intelligence officers follow Touchent, but lose track of him. Touchent, who is suspected of being an Algerian government agent who has penetrated the GIA, is thought to be responsible for bombings in France, one of which occurs shortly after this sighting. Nasiri sees Touchent at the Four Feathers club during a talk by a radical cleric. Although Nasiri does not initially realize the man is Touchent, he recognizes he is important and immediately informs MI6 after the talk. MI6 identifies Touchent from photographs taken of the attendees. When Nasiri asks his MI6 handler how they could have lost such an important militant leader, the handler replies: “He was at a café. Our guys were watching him. And then he somehow disappeared.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 277-278] The Guardian will later report, “Despite being publicly identified by the Algerian authorities as the European ringleader of the GIA and by French investigators as the key organizer” of the 1995 Paris metro bombings (see July-October 1995), “Touchent evaded capture, returned to Algeria, and settled in a secure police quarter of Algiers.” Mohammed Samraoui, a former colonel in Algerian intelligence, will later say, “French intelligence knew that Ali Touchent was [an Algerian government] operative charged with infiltrating pro-Islamist cells in foreign countries.” [Guardian, 9/8/2005] He will be sentence in absentia to ten years in prison in France in 1998, even though the Algerian government claims he was killed in 1997. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 346-347]
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