THE hijacking of an Air France jet by the Algerian Armed Islamic
Group (GIA) and its violent ending represent a dangerous turn in
Algeria's two-year-old civil war.
As devastation mounts (more than 30,000 people have been killed
since the start of the civil war), Algerians have asked for the
international community to get involved and help extract the
country from its quagmire.
Previous attempts to draw international attention to Algeria,
such as the recent Algerian opposition conference in Rome, were
peaceful. Unfortunately, that conference failed because the
Algerian military regime denounced it as a form of treason and a
threat to Algerian sovereignty. The conference received little
attention or support from the international news media or the
international community. The failure of these peaceful attempts may
have given way to flamboyant, suicidal acts, such as the hijackers'
reported intention to blow up the Air France plane over Paris.
In the wake of this terrorism, the United States could be swayed
from its position of endorsing reconciliation through dialogue to
following France's hard-line support of the military dictatorship
against a popular uprising. The US should resist this temptation.
It must hold Algerian President Lamine Zeroual to his promise of
allowing elections to go forward in early 1995. The military
government may use the GIA's terrorist act to renege on its
In Algeria, both the violent Armed Islamic Group and the legal
opposition parties agree that Algeria's current military regime is
illegal because it aborted the peaceful transfer of power through
elections. The military took over after the 1991 election, which
gave the Islamists a parliamentarian majority. The pretext was the
Army's fear that Islamists would form a dictatorial Islamic state.
In reality, since its independence from France in 1962, Algeria has
seen only one form of dictatorship: the rule of the Algerian
The West should not view the current military regime as guarding
democracy against a potential Islamic dictatorship. Western support
for the military regime could lead to further attacks on Western
Although the hijacking increased tension between France and the
Algerian military government, France remains deeply involved in
Algeria. The French government recently supplied the Algerian Army
with new helicopters and night vision equipment to hunt the
Islamists in the mountains. Yet France's apparent reversal, its
temporary suspension of all passenger flights and maritime
transport between the two countries, and its call to all French
citizens in nonessential positions to leave Algeria, may worsen the
crisis. The French message to the Islamists is that violence is the
only way to push France into minimizing its relations with the
Algerian military. This isn't a policy the US should emulate. …