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Algeria ex-spymaster demands justice for jailed aide


 General Mohamed Mediene

General Mohamed Mediene

The general regarded as Algeria’s behind-the-scenes kingmaker for 25 years until his sidelining in September has slammed as an “injustice” a five-year jail sentence handed down to one of his top lieutenants.

The open letter, released late on Friday, was the first public intervention by General Mohamed Mediene since his removal from the helm of the powerful DRS intelligence agency in what was widely seen as the climax of a power struggle in the North African nation.

Mediene said there was no basis for the conviction of his longtime counterterrorism chief General Abdelkader Ait-Ouarabi on charges of disobeying orders and demanded the removal of the stain on the honour of a loyal officer.

“The most urgent thing today is to put right the injustice done to an officer who served his country with passion and to restore the honour of men like him who were dedicated to the defence of Algeria,” Mediene wrote.

The November 26 trial of Ait-Ouarabi, better known as General Hassan, was the first of a senior secret service officer in Algerian history.

His prosecution was followed by the December 2 trial of former presidential guard chief General Mejdoub Kehal, better known as Djamel, who was sentenced to three years in jail over a murky shooting incident at a presidential residence outside Algiers.

Both trials were held behind closed doors in military courts and the details of the allegations against the two men were never made public.

Mediene, better known as General Toufik, did not go into detail either in his letter but insisted Ait-Ouarabi had never disobeyed orders during the operation that had been the basis of his trial.

“Concerning the operation which prompted the accusation of breach of general orders, I affirm he handled it in full respect of normal procedures and gave updates at the appropriate moments.

“After the convincing results of the first phase of the operation, I congratulated him and those working with him and encouraged them to exploit all the opportunities offered by their success.”

Ait-Ouarabi’s lawyers had raised the possibility of Mediene giving evidence at the trial but informed sources said he did not appear at the closed door hearing.

Since his election to a fourth term in April 2014, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his aides have pushed through major changes in Algeria’s shadowy intelligence and security apparatus, which some considered a “parallel state”.

Many other officers have been replaced or retired from duty.

Bouteflika has ruled the oil-rich nation since 1999, but a 2013 stroke has raised questions about how long the 78-year-old can remain in power and the battle for the succession is widely seen as being under way.

Reacting to doubts raised by prominent public figures over the president’s abilities, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal insisted last month that Bouteflika remained in full control.

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