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Four Priests Slain After Hijackers Killed With AM-France-Algeria Hijacking, Bjt

December 28, 1994

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ Four Roman Catholic priests - three French and a Belgian - were shot to death in their rectory Tuesday in an attack blamed on Muslim extremists trying to drive foreigners out of Algeria.

The attack came a day after French commandos killed four Islamic radicals who had hijacked an Air France jet from Algiers to Marseille.

The attackers escaped after gunning down the priests in Tizi-Ouzou, about 60 miles east of the Algerian capital. There was no claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on Muslim fundamentalist militants who have waged a nearly 3-year insurrection to establish an Islamic state.

The four priests were members of the Order of White Fathers, a highly respected missionary organization active throughout Africa.

The French priests were Christian Cheissel, 36, Jean Chevillard, 69 and Alain Dieulangard, 75.

Charles Deckers, a 70-year-old Belgian, had set up an association in Algiers to promote better understanding between Christians and Muslims, said the Rev. Andre Bertholet of the Order of the White Fathers in Brussels.

He lived in the capital and apparently was visiting the French priests, Bertholet said in a telephone interview.

The Islamic insurgency began in January 1992 when the government canceled parliamentary elections that a fundamentalist party was expected to win.

The militants have since begun targeting to scare away foreign investment, and France, Algeria’s colonial ruler, has been a prime target. With the deaths of the priests, 75 foreigners - 25 of them French - are believed to have been killed by Muslim extremists.

Two French Christian priests in May and two Spanish nuns were in October by suspected Islamic extremists.