"Dwarf" hacks off heads of 31 in attack


ISLAMIC "terrorists" killed 3 people in an Algerian town, and a dwarf hacked off their heads with an axe and knife, the usually well informed Algerian newspaper, El Watan, said yesterday.

Algeria's latest night of horror was confirmed by a source close to the security forces, who said they believed the 31 belonged to five families all related to a dissident member of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

"He was Sid Ali Bouhdgar, who split from the GIA and had formed his own group," the source said in Algiers, suggesting the GIA carried out the attack.

The authorities made no immediate comment on the killing. But their silence contrasted with the official warning issued to the press last week after the Algiers newspaper, Le Soir d'Algerie, reported another massacre which was rapidly denied by security forces.

The latest massacre took place in Ktiten district of Medea, about 25km south of Blida, the provincial capital, some 30 minutes' drive south of Algiers.

El Watan said: "They arrived towards midnight and invaded the district, forcing those living there to come out to have their throats cut.

"More than 30 people had their throats cut this night," the independent newspaper quoted a resident as saying. He said the slaughter, by around 50 "terrorists", took place overnight on Friday to Saturday.

"A dwarf, sometimes using an axe, sometimes a knife, cut the heads from the bodies. It was a [security] patrol, passing there a little later, which prevented the whole district being massacred," the resident said.

If the latest killing is confirmed, at least 225 people - and up to 280, according to Algerian media - have died during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Ramadan started on January 10th. Days earlier, the GIA warned that it would step up attacks during the month.

On Friday, as Algeria mourned the assassination of its most powerful trade union leader, Abdelhak Benhamouda, security forces said eight people had been killed in nearby Sidi Moussa during the night of Wednesday to Thursday.

"This barbarous act did not exclude a baby of 13 months who was strangled by the criminals," the security forces said.

Bombs have killed scores in the capital, home to three to four million people, and in other towns.

On Saturday local authorities, aiming to thwart car bombs, said vehicles must no longer stop in Algiers streets during the day, Algerian radio said. The ban, starting on Wednesday, will operate from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Outside Algiers scores of other people have been dragged from homes in isolated communities and choked to death as their throats were cut. The authorities blame Muslim rebels.

Mr Benhamouda, the UGTA leader gunned down in central Algiers, was known as a staunch supporter of President Liamine Zeroual.

Gen Zeroual has invited legal opposition parties for talks next week on parliamentary elections planned for the first half of this year. The talks are to be held to discuss the formation of an independent committee to oversee the polls, said a statement carried by the official Algerian news agency.

Algeria has been without an elected parliament since 1992, when authorities cancelled a general election in which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had taken a huge lead. About 60,000 people have since died.