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Algerians express astonishment and dismay following Paris attacks

Friday's attacks in Paris resulted in one attacker of Algerian origin and one Algerian victim
There are now believed to be almost 500,000 French nationals of Algerian origin living in France (AFP)

ALGIERS – Algeria, with its close historical links to Paris, has been  shaken by the terrorist attacks in the French capital, with statements of strong condemnation being made by the political elite and the population in general.

On the streets of Algiers, in the wake of the attacks in which at least 132 people were killed and more than 350 others injured, many pedestrians looked clearly shocked. Many Algiers residents have either friends or family in France. Even those who did not have direct links appeared shaken by the incident bringing back uncomfortable memories of the country’s civil war that raged for more than a decade in the 1990s and which saw near daily explosions and attacks strike the country.

“I still can’t figure out how did this happen in a strong country like France,” said 45-year-old Slimane, who says he often goes to Paris on holiday.

“I’m appalled and still can’t believe it happened,” said Sofiane who owns a newspaper kiosk in downtown Algiers.

“I spent the entire night on the phone calling and speaking with people I know and family members and that was a terrible feeling.”

An elderly man, who was quietly crying while buying his paper, told Middle East Eye that he had lost a close friend in the attack, which has since been claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Algerian journalists showed their support by kicking off social media campaigns on Twitter and Facebook to express their support and condolences. Many young Algerians also took to social media, with some blaming France for these attacks as a result of its military operations abroad.

Attacker of Algerian origin

French authorities have now identified one of Friday’s suicide attackers as Omar Ismail Mostefai, a 29-year-old Frenchman who was born in Paris but is reportedly of Algerian origin.

Some media reports, quoting Omar’s brother, suggest that he might have paid a visit to Algeria in the past without giving any further details. “He went to Algeria with his family and his little daughter a while ago,” the brother told Ouest-France newspaper, adding that after this “he ended contact with his family in France”.

Ouest-France interviewed family members but didn’t say anything how his brother got radicalised.

While France named the first attacker, an Algerian security official, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to journalists, believes it’s too early to talk about the issue.

“Investigators identified the attacker as a Frenchman of Algerian descent, but there should not be a focus on his origins as he is a citizen of France and committed the attack in France” he told MEE.

In addition, he said, it is too early to express any kind of opinion particularly if he has family links in Algeria.

He also denied that the 29-old-year French national had training in Algeria prior to carrying out the attacks in Paris.

“Algeria isn’t a training ground for Islamist militants, I can assure you,” counter-terrorism expert Ali Zaoui told MEE.

“There are no such training dedicated camps for terrorists in Algeria as security forces broke down all terrorism groups remaining in the mountains,” he said.

Zaoui said “he was recruited elsewhere but not in Algeria, that’s what I can assure you. There is no possibility that his radicalisation took place during the tours he made to our country in the past.”

Algerian musician among victims

Karima B, a musician, told MEE that the young Algerian man who died on Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris was a good friend.

“Music was all his life that’s why he applied to study in Paris as he was full of dreams, but now he was taken from us by these coward terrorists,” she said while weeping.

Friends of the victim, 29-year-old Khireddine Sahbi, told MEE that Sahbi hailed from Tizi-ouzou, a town east of Algiers.

He left Algeria to pursue a musical career. He was a first-year student in musicology at La Sorbone University in Paris.

France has been a key member of the US-led anti-IS campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq and has also helped to roll back militant advances in Mali.

Until independence was won in 1962, Algeria was a part of France, much like Corsica is today. There are now believed to be almost 500,000 French nationals of Algerian origin living in France.

While there are many notable French Algerians, such as football hero Zinedine Zidane and writer and activist Azouz Begag, French society has been regularly criticized for not doing enough to help integrate its Muslim minority. Around 10 percent of France's population are Muslims.