Families of dead French monks accuse Algeria of 'confiscating evidence'
The families of seven French monks killed in Algeria 18 years ago accused the authorities in the north African country Thursday of "confiscating evidence" about their deaths.
The monks were killed in 1996 after being abducted from the Notre Dame de l'Atlas monastery in Tibhirine, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Algiers, and only their severed heads were ever recovered.
France opened an official inquiry into the incident in 2004, and investigating judges Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux were finally allowed to travel to Algeria earlier this month to witness the exhumation of the monks' skulls and have DNA samples taken.
But according to Patrick Baudouin, lawyer for the monks' families, the Algerian authorities blocked the magistrates from returning to France with the samples.
"We are being deprived of evidence that was gathered," he told reporters.
"Algerian authorities are confiscating evidence and therefore continuing to throw barriers just like the ones we have constantly come across as this case progresses."
Baudouin said if the alleged interference by Algiers continued, "we may deduce that it is a kind of confession, a recognition of the involvement of the Algerian military".
Algeria has always said the monks were kidnapped by Islamist militants at a time when the country was plunged in civil war, and the murder was claimed by the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), which targeted foreigners in the former French colony.
But that version has never been confirmed, and France is also examining the possibility that the Algerian army made a mistake or manipulated the murders to implicate the GIA.
The exhumation of the skulls and samples taken were aimed to help clarify how the murders happened, and particularly to determine whether the beheadings happened before or after the monks' deaths.
Any post-mortem beheading could give credit to the theory that someone tried to hide the real cause of the deaths to implicate Islamists.
Last week, Algerian Justice Minister Tayeb Louh said a magistrate from the country will also travel to France at the end of the month to interview two members of the French secret services in connection with the case.
© 2014 AFP