|Algerian massacres in 1997|
|Massacres in which over 50 people were killed:|
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The Rais massacre, of August 29, 1997, was one of Algeria's bloodiest massacres of the 1990s. It took place at the village of Rais, near Sidi Moussa and south of Algiers. The initial official death toll was 98 people killed and 120 wounded; CNN said that hospital workers and witnesses gave a toll of at least 200, and up to 400. The figure given by the Algerian government to the UN Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2000/3/Add.1) was 238. The BBC later quoted the figure of 800 killed .
In 1997, Algeria was at the peak of a brutal civil conflict that had begun after the military's cancellation of 1992 elections set to be won by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). The poor farming village of Rais had mostly voted for FIS and had a history of supporting Islamist guerrillas in the region, but (according to a villager quoted by PBS) had recently stopped providing them with food and money.
The hooded attackers arrived about 1 am in trucks and cars, armed with shotguns, knives, axes, and bombs. They continued killing the village's men, women, children, and even animals until dawn (about 6 am), cutting throats and taking the time to burn corpses; young women, however, were abducted instead of being killed. In some cases, they left severed heads on doorsteps. They mutilated and stole from the dead, and committed atrocities against pregnant women. They burned and bombed some houses. The villagers tried to flee or hide. Army units stayed outside the village, shooting at fleeing villagers, but not attempting to enter the village until after the attackers, carrying away some 20 young women, left at dawn.
Responsibility was claimed for this, as for the Bentalha massacre, by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). In An Inquiry into the Algerian Massacres (a book arguing that the GIA had become a tool of the state) two survivors are quoted as reporting that the killers were dressed like "Afghans", with turbans, covered faces, beards (some false), and uniforms, that the attackers were also cursing God throughout, and that among them were a few women, wearing hijab over a uniform. These accounts (which can be read below) appear not to be corroborated by major media outlets.
The government vowed to "continue to struggle without mercy against the barbarous criminals until their eradication", announcing a massive manhunt and new measures to reinforce rural security. Amnesty International expressed concern regarding the government response, noting that "the massacre site is surrounded by army barracks and security forces posts, located between a few hundreds metres and a few kilometers away", including an army barracks 100 metres away, and quoting a survivor as saying "The army and the security forces were right there; they heard and saw everything and did nothing, and they let the terrorists leave." The Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, retorted to ITN that "the army, the national guard intervened, intervened as quickly as it was possible." The authorities cited concern regarding the possible presence of mines and ambushes; however, a rescue worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that the first gendarmes there had not taken any precautions against possible mines as they drove in.
The Algerian government told the UN Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2000/3/Add.1) that "A judicial inquiry was opened by the Larbâa court and the four perpetrators of the massacre identified. Search warrants were issued by the examining magistrate on 30 May 1998." How four attackers killed 238 people is not made clear.
The village's population had already dropped from 1000 before the conflict began to 200 after the massacre; many of the remainder left following this massacre. Some of those who remained were given arms by the government for future self-defense, according to La Tribune, which quotes residents opposing Abdelaziz Bouteflika's amnesty to certain members of the armed groups (the Law of National Reconciliation), fearing that it would include murderers like those who killed their neighbors.
-  CNN
-  AP
-  NYT
-  PBS NewsHour
-  Amnesty International
-  Rais, Bentalha - one year later - a poem by Assia Djebar
-  Surviving children's response - Algerian Red Crescent
-  2 eyewitness accounts according to the LADDH
-  La Tribune
-  Human Rights Watch
-  BBC
-  BBC - 8 years on