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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 12:16 GMT
Islamist's death threatens Algeria peace process
Algeria has been wracked by conflict since 1991

Prominent Algerian Islamist leader Abdelkader Hachani was shot dead in Algiers on Monday. Rahul Sarnaik considers what impact his death may have on the efforts to end the turmoil in Algeria.

Abdelkader Hachani was attacked in the waiting room of a dental clinic in the Bab-el-Oued district of Algiers. State radio reported that he was taken to hospital and underwent surgery, but died later of his injuries.

His killer was not immediately identified, nor has any group yet claimed responsibility for the shooting.

The killing sends out the message that Islamists are at risk
BBC North Africa correspondent Heba Saleh
The country's President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, pledged that everything possible would be done to track down the people behind the killing.

Mr Hachani's death has been seen as a blow to hopes that the country would emerge peacefully from its years of bitter conflict.

These upheavals began after the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) - in which Mr Hachani was a key figure - won legislative elections in December 1991. The army promptly cancelled the second round of elections, which were due in January 1992, arrested senior FIS leaders and banned the organisation.

Violence between Islamist extremists and government forces since then has left up to 100,000 people killed, most of them civilians.

Sensitive time

Abdelkader Hachani: His death is a blow to reconciliation
The BBC's North Africa Correspondent, Heba Saleh, says this is a crucial period for Algeria:

"The killing comes at a time when the authorities and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika have been making moves to reduce the violence and to entice armed militants to lay down their weapons," she says.

"So clearly, when someone as senior as Mr Hachani is killed, it sends out the wrong message. It sends out the message that Islamists are at risk."

President Bouteflika: Pressure on militants to disarm
Earlier this year, the president unveiled his plan for a resolution of the conflict.

By 13 January 2000, all the Islamist militants must hand in their weapons and renounce violence. Those who have not taken part in murder, rape or bomb-attacks will be granted an amnesty.

This "national programme of reconciliation" was given popular approval in a referendum on 16 September.

Call for summit

But while some of the FIS leadership endorsed the government's plan, several Islamist leaders had opposed it. These included Mr Hachani, who said that the President's programme did not go far enough.

A fresh assault by extremism against Algeria's reconciliation process
James Rubin, US State Department
He and several other leading Algerians had called for an international summit to find peaceful ways of ending the conflict.

Shortly after the shooting, the Presidency issued a condemnation of the killing of Mr Hachani, blaming the attack on "the enemies of civil and national concord and reconciliation".

US State Department spokesman James Rubin added his country's denunciation of the murder, calling it "a fresh assault by extremism against Algeria's reconciliation process".

Government accused

But FIS leaders believe that the killing was actually carried by hardline elements within the government.

Heba Saleh says that for the ordinary people of the country, this murder will mean a continuation of the fear and despair that they've endured since the conflict erupted in 1992:

"It presents President Bouteflika with a problem because he has been trying to project this image of reconciliation, of a country that is trying to come to terms with what is going on, that is forgiving - and then something as big as this happends."

Whoever assassinated Mr. Hachani deprived the FIS of a man widely seen as both shrewd and moderate. It had been expected that he might play a crucial role in returning his movement to mainstream politics. Without him, the immediate prospects for peace seem remote once again.
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See also:
24 Nov 99 |  Media reports
Islamists denounce "cowardly" killing of leader
23 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Thousands attend Hachani funeral
22 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Algerian Islamic leader shot dead
23 Nov 99 |  Monitoring
Algerian press denounces killing
17 Sep 99 |  Africa
Algerian vote 'victory for peace'
17 Sep 99 |  Africa
Analysis: Bouteflika emerges victorious
16 Sep 99 |  Africa
Analysis: A people tired of conflict

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