Authorities have detained 36 people in the brutal mob killing and burning of a man in a town in Algeria’s Kabyle region that the crowd suspected of starting dozens of wildfires but who had actually come to help, the head of the judicial police said Sunday.
The fires that began last Monday tore through the mountainous region, killing at least 47 residents and 28 soldiers while destroying olive groves and livestock.
Most fires across other regions were being checked and “no longer represent a danger for residents,” Civil Protection official Col. Farouk Achour was quoted by the official APS news agency as saying. More than 74 fires were put out in the last 24 hours, he said.
But the brutality of the killing Wednesday by a fanatic crowd of a man described by friends and family as an artist eclipsed the fires after pictures and video of the scene were posted on social media.
The man, identified as Djamel Ben Ismail, 38, was buried the following day in his hometown of Khemis Miliana, west of the Kabyle capital of Tizi-Ouzou. He was killed outside a police station on a main square in the town of Larbaa Nath Irathen, a village ravaged by flames in the Tizi-Ouzou district.
The judicial police official, Mohamed Chagor, said the crowd in a “collective hysteria” dragged Ben Ismail out of a police station, where he was being protected, and attacked him. He said police officers decided not to fire warning shots at the mob in fear of making the situation worse.
Among those arrested were three women and the man who knifed the victim’s inanimate body before he was burned. Chagor said that when he was arrested the alleged knifer was preparing to flee to neighboring Morocco, which has increasingly tense ties with Algeria.
Chagor thanked those who posted photos, saying it helped authorities identify those arrested.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said authorities suspect a criminal origin behind the blazes even if a heatwave that has sizzled North Africa “is part of it.” At least 22 people have been arrested, officials have said.