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Algeria: Man murdered and burned after being falsely accused of starting forest fires

35-year-old Jamal Ben Ismail had collected donations before travelling to Tizi Ouzou to help douse the fires and evacuate those most in danger
Harrowing videos and images of the incident have circulated online, igniting immense criticism of the perpetrators and sympathy for the victim (Reuters)

Tragedy has once again struck Algeria after a man was beaten, killed and burned on Wednesday after it was assumed that he was an arsonist who had initiated the country’s devastating forest fires. 

Jamal Ben Ismail was murdered after he arrived in the Algerian city of Tizi Ouzou, one of the areas hardest hit by the forest fires.

According to the victim’s friends, the 35-year-old had travelled to the district from Miliana, in the state of Ain Defla, 150km west of Algiers, to help fight the fires and evacuate those most in danger.

'My son is a hero and a martyr, and Miliana has won another hero'

- Jamal Ben Ismail’s father 

Ismail was reportedly accused of initiating the fires when he was apprehended by a group of people. He was then allegedly arrested for his own safety.  

In harrowing videos circulating on social media, an angry mob is seen to pull Ismail from the police car before beating him up. At one point, his bruised body can be seen lying lifeless on the ground, moments before his corpse was burned. Images of the scorched body have also been shared widely online.

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'He cared about all humans'

Following his murder, Ismail’s friends took to social media to rebut the claims of his involvement in the forest fires. Instead, they claimed that their friend, “a painter, singer and nature lover”, had travelled to the region to aid those in need.

Ismail was collecting donations the day prior to his departure to Tizi Ouzou to provide aid for the families of the victims, according to those close to him. He is described in one testimony as “one who doesn’t break a branch and doesn’t kill an ant”.

“He cared about all the humans he met,” the testimony read.

Awraas TV interviewed Ismail hours before his death. “I came yesterday in the night in solidarity with our people, and we hope every free Algerian to also play this role,” he told the news channel. 

The incident has been met with widespread indignation by Algerians.

Translation: By what sin was he killed, burned, and his body was abused?  May God have mercy on him and forgive him and give patience to his family.

Many have called for all those involved in Ismail’s death to be held accountable.

Translation: What happened should not be tolerated. Every person who has allowed this to happen must be punished. 

“The role of the state is to apply the law to terrorists,” tweeted one commentator.

Meanwhile, some have made an appeal to president Abdelmadjid Tebboune to open an investigation into Ismail's death. 

Translation: The killers, their faces exposed and clear. We ask you, Mr. President, to implement the law, for it is above us all. Let us not forget the police officers who abandoned the victim and did not protect him.

His father, who goes by the name “Jimmy”, has demanded that authorities intervene to return his son’s body, saying he himself is unable to go to Tizi Ouzou as he does not know what could happen to him there.

“My son is a hero and a martyr, and Miliana has won another hero,” Ismail’s father said in a televised interview with the Algerian channel El Bilad.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Justice announced that it has ordered an investigation into the murder of Jamal Ben Ismail.

At least 65 people, including 28 soldiers, have been killed in wildfires raging across northern Algeria. President Tebboune declared three days of national mourning for the dead and paused all state activities unrelated to the fire. 

Tizi Ouzou, the largest district in the Kabylie region, is the worst-affected area.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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