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Bishops Seek Pardon for Militants

March 25, 1998

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ The Roman Catholic bishops of Algiers asked for pardons Wednesday for eight Islamic militants sentenced to death for killing a French bishop and his bodyguard in 1996.

The eight were sentenced Monday, one of them in absentia.

The pardons were being sought because of ``the radical severity of the judgment″ and because the family and friends of Monsignor Henri-Pierre Claverie ``seek pardon and mercy,″ the bishops said in a statement.

Claverie and his bodyguard, Mohamed Pouchikhi, were killed in a bomb blast in Oran on Aug. 1, 1996, as they returned from a ceremony for seven French monks killed by the Armed Islamic Group, the most radical of Muslim insurgents fighting to topple Algeria’s military-backed regime.

The attack caused outrage in Algeria, especially among politicians and intellectuals. Originally from France, the Claverie family had lived in Algeria since 1857 and supported Algeria’s independence.

Foreigners, including the French clergy, have been among the targets of Islamic activists who have waged an insurgency since 1992, when the government canceled legislative elections the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front was set to win.

At least 75,000 people have been killed in violence over the past six years in this North African nation.

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