THE hijacking of an Air France airliner on a runway in Algiers
last weekend did what two months of intensified violence had failed
to do - put Algeria's civil conflict back on the front pages in
The incident challenges both the Algerian government - which,
despite a two-month campaign to crush the Islamist insurgency,
failed to protect the airport - and France's policy to support that
The hijackers seized the Airbus and 172 passengers and crew
members Saturday. Algerian news reports say they called for the
release of two leaders of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)
and demanded to leave Algeria.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Interior Minister
Charles Pasqua intervened with their counterparts in the Algerian
government to "call their attention to the seriousness of the
ultimatum" to kill French hostages. At presstime, in an apparent
rescue attempt, French elite forces stormed the plane. They now
have control of the plane, but several people were killed,
including the hijackers.
For Ali, an Algerian who took the earlier Air France morning
flight out of Algiers, the message of the hijackers is clear:
"They want to undermine relations between France and Algeria."
This impression Foreign Minister Juppe hastened to correct: "I
don't think it's wise to envisage the rupture of ties between
France and Algeria, because we have a long history, geography, as
well as longstanding interests in common."
For 130 years of colonial history, France viewed Algeria as a
"safety valve" for its own social woes: Many of France's
unemployed, for example, emigrated to start a new life in French
Algeria. Today, with 50 percent of the Algerian population under
the age of 20, with little hope for employment, housing, or a letup
in violence, many French fear that their own country will see a
flood of immigrants and take on Algeria's woes.
* Last month, French police rounded up 80 Algerians around Paris
suspected of trafficking arms and false identifications to Islamic
militants in Algeria.
* Two weeks ago, a communique circulating under the name of a
leader of the FIS claimed that "After Jan 1, 1995, suicide attacks
will be carried out against diplomatic missions and French
interests throughout the Arab world."
* Unprecedented levels of gang violence in the impoverished
French suburbs are linked to "rage" of displaced, disaffected
second- and third-generation Algerians. …