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Moroccan tourists killed: Algeria claims shots fired due to refusal to comply

Moroccan tourists killed: Algeria claims shots fired due to refusal to comply
Relatives carry the body of Bilal Kissi, shot dead by the Algerian coastguard when   -  
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"The Algerian defence ministry said on Sunday that warning shots were fired by Algerian coastguards on Tuesday, followed by "shots fired" in response to a "refusal to comply" by Moroccans on jet skis, after the Moroccan media reported the deaths of two holidaymakers lost at sea.

According to the Moroccan media and lawyers who said they would lodge a complaint in France, Bilal Kissi, a French-Moroccan holidaymaker, and his cousin Abdelali Mechouar, who had a legal residence permit in France, were killed by the Algerian coastguard after getting lost.

They had set off from the seaside resort of Saïdia (north-west), on the border with Algeria, on jet skis, according to the testimony of Mr Kissi's older brother, Mohamed, who was able to return to the beach.

"During a security and control patrol in our territorial waters, a coastguard unit intercepted three jet-skis that had crossed our territorial waters illegally at 19:47 (18:47 GMT) on Tuesday," the Algerian ministry said in a statement.

"After issuing an audible warning and asking them to stop on several occasions, the offenders refused to comply and fled, carrying out dangerous manoeuvres", according to the same source.

"After sounding an audible warning and asking them to stop several times, the suspects refused to comply and took off in dangerous manoeuvres", according to the same source.

After several "warning shots", "shots were fired, forcing one of the jet-skis to stop, while the other two fled", the ministry added.

The ministry explained that the shots were fired because of "increased activity by drug-trafficking gangs and organised crime" in the border area, and because of the "obstinacy of the jet-ski passengers".

In its press release, the Ministry asked the public to "pay no attention to the false information circulating with the aim of damaging the honourable image of the Algerian Army".

- violent incident" -

According to the Ministry, on Wednesday "an unidentified male body with a gunshot wound" was found and transferred to Tlemcen for autopsy.

The body of Bilal Kissi, a 29-year-old shopkeeper and father of two, was found on the Moroccan side of the beach. The family of his cousin Abdelali Mechouar (or Mchiouer), a 40-year-old shopkeeper living in France and father of a five-year-old child, are demanding that his body be returned to them as soon as possible.

Another member of the group, Smaïl Snabé, also French-Moroccan, was injured, according to Mohamed Kissi quoted by the media, and is being held in Algeria.

France has confirmed the death of a Frenchman of Moroccan origin and "the imprisonment of another compatriot in Algeria in an incident involving several of our nationals".

The public prosecutor's office in Oujda, the town on which Saidia depends, has opened an investigation to determine the circumstances of "a violent incident at sea", a judicial source told the Moroccan agency MAP on Friday.A complaint will also be lodged "on Monday or Tuesday" for "aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, hijacking and failure to assist a person in danger", Hakim Chergui, one of the victims' family lawyers, told AFP on Sunday.

Rabat has yet to make an official statement.

But the National Council for Human Rights (Morocco's official constitutional body, independent of the government) "condemned the use of live ammunition by the Algerian coastguard against defenceless citizens, instead of rescuing people lost at sea, which is a serious violation of international standards", according to a statement on Sunday.

"A third young man is still in intensive care in Oujda", the CNDH said, without giving his identity or nationality. The CNDH also said that Mr Snabé "was sentenced to 18 months" in prison in Algeria, without giving any reasons.

This affair is likely to exacerbate the bitter friction between Rabat and Algiers, fuelled by their antagonism over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, considered a "non-autonomous territory" by the UN in the absence of a definitive settlement.

The Polisario independence fighters are calling for a referendum on self-determination, scheduled by the UN in 1991 but never held. Morocco, which controls almost 80% of the territory, is proposing an autonomy plan under its sovereignty.

Their borders have been closed since 1994, and Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in August 2021.

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