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Algerian Court Sentences 38 to Death in Airport Bombing

May 26, 1993

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ A special court sentenced 38 people to death on Wednesday for the deadly August 1992 bombing of Algiers international airport.

The bomb killed nine people and injured 123. Officials blamed Muslim extremists who were robbed of an election victory early last year.

The 38 were among 58 defendants convicted Wednesday. Seventeen drew prison terms ranging from one to 20 years and three were acquitted.

In another development Wednesday, Tahar Djaout, editor of a magazine critical of Muslim fundamentalists, was shot and critically wounded. It was the second attack on a journalist in 10 days.

Twelve of the defendants given the death sentence attended the three-week trial; 26 were doomed in absentia, including three offspring of imprisoned Muslim fundamentalist leader Abassi Madani. Trial was before a special court of anonymous judges, set up by the military-backed government.

Appeals were expected, but court observers doubted they would succeed.

Defendants said their televised confessions were forced under torture or constraint, and said the bomb was planted to discredit the fundamentalist movement.

No physical evidence was introduced during the trial and officials were unable to determine who placed the bomb.

Another special court convicted and sentenced five people to death Wednesday for planting bombs at the government TV station and a security office. Four had already received death sentences in the airport bombing trial.

Officials say the Armed Islamic Movement plotted the bombing as part of an effort to topple the government and establish an Islamic state. The movement was organized after elections were canceled in January 1992 with the fundamentalists ahead.

The Islamic Salvation Front, the leading fundamentalist party, was outlawed a month later. Since then, about 800 people have died in political violence.

Among those who heard themselves sentenced to death Wednesday were Hocine Abderrahim, who ran as a Salvation Front candidate; Rachid Hachaichi, an Air Algeria captain, and Said Soussene, former vice mayor of Algiers.

Djaout, 39, director of the magazine Rupture, was shot outside his Algiers area apartment Wednesday and hospital officials said he was in a coma with severe head wounds.

Muslim extremists, often a target in his writings, were suspected.

He had recently received a package containing a piece of a burial shroud.

Omar Belhouchet, chief of the independent newspaper El Watan, escaped unhurt on May 17 when gunshots shattered his car windows as he dropped his children off at school. Muslim extremists were also suspected in that attack.

Reporters Without Borders, an organization with headquartes in Paris, said Wednesday’s attack ″bodes the worst for the future of free expression in Algeria.″ It called on the Algerian government to protect journalists.

The government itself has acted to muzzle critical members of the news media, jailing some or banning them from writing.

Officials meanwhile eported Wednesday that security forces killed five armed Muslim militants on Sunday near Blida, 30 miles south of Algiers, and another overnight Monday in the Casbah of Algiers.

Update hourly