Enquiry sheds doubt on beheading of French monks in Algeria
A long-running enquiry into the deaths of seven monks beheaded during the Algerian civil war in the 1990s cast doubt on the official version of events on Thursday.
The deaths of the monks, kidnapped by Islamist militants from the Tibhirine monastery in 1996, has remained shrouded in mystery and suspicion and has long been a source of controversy in France and Algeria.
Their deaths were initially claimed by the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), but a retired French general claimed in 2009 that the monks had been accidentally shot dead by troops in an Algerian military helicopter during a botched rescue attempt.
The general said the heads were removed afterwards to make it look like the work of jihadist rebels.
In a report made public Thursday, a team of three experts concluded the monks were killed several weeks before the date claimed by the GIA of May 21, 1996.
But after examining the heads of the monks, which were found on a road, they said it was impossible to say how exactly they died.
There were "marks consistent with decapitation on three of the heads -- decapitation sufficient to have been the original cause of death," said the experts in a statement.
A decapitation after they were already dead could give credence to the theory that someone tried to hide the real cause of the deaths.
But without the bodies -- which were never found -- it was hard to make further conclusions. The heads did not show any bullet wounds.
It took 10 years for investigators to be granted access last October to the Notre Dame de L'Atlas monastery in Tibehirine to exhume the heads.
But there was anger from the monks' families after the Algerian authorities denied the team the right to take samples back with them.
The experts were therefore forced to work at the site, limiting their investigation.
"Only an examination of the bone damage under the microscope would allow us to go further," they said.
The investigation, overseen by magistrate Marc Trevedic, have called for Algeria to allow further work by the team.
"The experts have been able to draw conclusions, I would say around 80 percent, on the causes of death and date of the deaths," he said.
"To be certain, we really need samples that have been left in Algeria."
© 2015 AFP