Thursday, 3 February 2011

Cistercian Trappists, Tibhirine Priory, Atlas, Algeria

Murdeof Trappistin Algeria

Mystery of the Martyred Monks
by Alain Woodrow  
The TABLET 4 December 2010 
 A French film opened this week in Britaintellinof the kidnapping and murder of seven Trappist monks in Algeria in 1996. Islamic extremists were blamed,although it seems the truth is far more complicated and potentiallyembarrassinto both the Algeriaand French Governments

Numerous books, articles, televisiodocumentaries and now a film have beenmade othe subject, buthmystery of the assassina­tiooseveFrench Trappist monks in Algeri14 years ago has never been fullelucidated. 

ThFrench movieDes hommes et dedieuadirected by self-styledagnostic Xavier Beauvois, winneof the Grand Prix at Cannethis yeaandreleased in Britain aOf GodanMen yesterday, simplrelates thknownfactwithouexpressing a political opinionIt waaimmediate success, withone and half million people seeinthe filin the first three weekafter its release iFrance in September.  

Fresinformation has come tolight recently: thankto thedeclassification by thFrenchGovernment of some secret documents, suspicious clues have emerged and newhypotheses have beeaire- notto mention the ongoinginvestigation by thFrench judiciaryBut manquestionsremain unanswered. Whokidnapped thmonkin March 1996 in their Algerian monastery of OuLady of Atlas ithe village of Tibhirine at thfoot of thAtlas Mountains? What role dithIslamischiefDjamel ZitounplayWhmurdered thmonks and why were they beheaded,their bodies never beinfound?  

Thhistory of the French Church in Algeriis a long and troubleone. After the colonisation othe countri1830, Trappismonastery was founded in Staouelinear Algiers. In 1846Pope Gregory XVI raised ito the status of abbey. The Emperor Napoleon III visited the abbey anCharles de Foucauldstayed there severatimes on his way to his hermitage in the Hoggar Mountains. The monastery waclosed i1904 for political and financialreasons.  

In 1934, five Trappist monkfrom Sloveniawho had been expelled from France after the separation of Church and State in 1905, settled iTibhirine(whicmeans "garden") in a man­siobuilt by aEnglish settler in thenineteentcentury, surrounded by a largagricultural estate.  

I1962, Algerigained itindependence from France after bitter war lasting eight years. The SuperioGeneraothe Cisterciaorder in Rome planned tclosthe monastery a year laterbut the Archbishop of Algiers,Cardinal Leon-Etienne Duvaldissuaded hifrom doing so, and Tibhirineremained the onlTrappismonastery in the whole of north AfricaIn 1964, eight new monks arrived at the monastery andin 1976thfirst meeting was helbetween the monks and group of Muslim Sufi mystics. A movementcalled Ribat es-Sala(the "Linof Peace") was createto foster Christian-MuslidialogueIn 1984the monasterbecama priory and Christian deCherge was elected prior.  

In 1993during the celebra­tion of Christmas, a group of armemen forcedtheir wainto thmonastery, demanding medicaassistance for Islamist rebels hiding in thmountains. Fr de Cherge parleyed with their leader, explaininthat weapons wernoallowed tenter thmonasterywhich is place of prayer,and whilhe was willing ttend the wounded, he had no medical supplies to sparesince thewerused to minister tthe sicvillagers. Three years later,aarmed group broke in at night ankidnapped seveothe ninmonkinresidence.  

After the first incident at Christma1993Christian de Cherge wrote a moving spirituatestamentfounamong his papers after hideathiwhich he showed his love for Algeria and itMuslim populationAddressinhis family, thpriowrote"If one day it should happen to me - and it could be today tobe a victim of the terroristhat threatento engulall the foreignerlivinin Algeriawould likmy community, mChurch and my familtknow that my life was given to Goand tthis country."  

After a lonmeditation on hipossibly violent death, "which I do not desire,sinccannorejoicin the thought that thpeople I love will be accuseofmmurder", Christian dCherge ended bforgivinhis futurassassin"And I thank you toofriend of thfinamomentwho would not be awarof whayou werdoingYes, say to you too 'thanyou' and 'aDieu'And may we findourselves, happthieves together, in Paradise, ifit pleases GodthFather of ubothAmen! Inshallah!"  

On 23 May 1996twmonths after thdisappearance of the seven monks, a statement issuein the name of the MusliextremisArmed Islamic Group(GIAclaimed respon­sibility for the killing, two days previously, of themonksOn 30 May, thAlgeriaGovernment announcethat their remains had been found near the city of Medea, 1miles from thmonasteryBoth the Algerian anthFrencauthorities have attempted to control media coverage,to ensure thathe Islamic fundamentalistwere blamed. But persistent doubtsabouthe official version of eventbegan tcirculate.   

ThCistercian Studies Quaterlyfoexample, hinted athpossible complicity of tharmyand the Archdiocese of Algierhas repeatedlaskedthAlgerian authorities for the resultof their official investigation. No information has beeforthcoming and the Archbishop of AlgiersHenri Teissier, expressesurpristhanot single person habeearrested.  

Responsibility for the killings was initiallattributed to DjameZitounithe head othe GlAbut it iprobable that he was double agentworking for the secreservices andindirectly, for the army.  

The most likely scenario has been piecetogether by the former Procurator Generaof thCistercian order in Rome, Fr Armand Veilleux, who has worked unceasingltdis­covethe trutabout the martyrdoof the monks of Tibhirine. He publishehis findings in LMondiJanuary 2003. According to himthe presence of thFrench monkin Algeria embarrassethe military, which was determined to force them to leavthe countryNoonly dithe monks refuse to gobut they gave medical assistance to Islamist rebels andeven allowed them to use theitelephone to contacaccompliceabroadThe monks' phone was tapped in Algiers.   

No doubt the army's intelligence servicdid not wish to liquidate the monks physicallybutratherto have them kidnapped bthe Islamists recruited by their agenZitouni anthen "liberatedby tharmand puin planbound for Paris. But things went badlwrong. Zitouni lackethe necessary authority over the different Islamisgroupand the hostages were taken frohim by another Islamist leaderAbou Mosaab. "When Zitouni was sento get them back, he waeliminatedNeither the Algerian nor the French intelligence services were then able to savthe monks.  

It iunlikelthat the monks were killed by decapitationThey werprobablyshot and then beheadedThere was a massive military intervention, with theuse of mortashelling and napalm, in tharea where the monkwere held, andit has been suggestethaaarmy helicoptestrafethe camp where the monks were held captive, killing them by mis­take. This would explain whtheheads onlwere exposesince the bodies were disfigured bnapalm andbullewounds.   

The Algeriaand French authorities doubt­less know more than they are admitting. Butwhilthe Algerian regime can keep silent, the French Government is under the spotlight of public opinionIn fact, a new investigation is under wayled by aanti-terrorist judgeMarTrevidicwho seems determined to solve the mystery.  

• Alain Woodrow writes for The Tablet from France.  


Elizabeth Rimmer said...

I went to see this film yesterday in Stirling. It was wonderful, I have the books you published about them and I was amazed at how closely it kept to the story as it emerged from the records at the monastery. And the final shot where monks and killers disappeared into the snow ---. I will be writimg about it on my blog today.Tibhirine

lin anderson said...
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