Enquiry sheds new light on killings of French monks in Algeria

2nd July 2015, Comments 0 comments

A long-running enquiry into the deaths of seven monks beheaded during the Algerian civil war in the 1990s said Thursday they were likely killed a month earlier than claimed by jihadist militants.

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 blamed on 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 claimed 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 nine days later, 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 post-mortem beheading could give credence to the theory that someone tried to hide the real cause of the deaths to implicate Islamists.

But without the bodies -- which were never found -- it was hard to make further conclusions. The heads did not show any bullet wounds.

The experts travelled to Algeria in October to examine the heads, but complained they could not bring samples back to France for testing.

© 2015 AFP

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