An Algerian plane crash has resulted in the death of 257 individuals, largely military personnel and families. Among the dead are members of the Polisario Front, a rebel, pro-independence force fighting Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. The Polisario Front is backed by Algeria.
The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria is located in North Africa. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the north, and its neighbours include Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Morocco. It also shares a small border (41 kilometres) with Western Sahara. Algeria is the largest country in Africa. The country has a population of almost 50 million, with a Muslim majority of 99%.
There are numerous evidences of prehistoric life in Algeria. Tools dating back to 1.8 million years ago, and Homo erectus bones dating back to 700,000 years ago have been found, as well as numerous cave paintings. The Imazighen people, known more commonly as the Berbers, were the indigenous people of Northern Africa, who dominated the region until it was conquered by the Arabs in the 7th Century. Algeria was briefly annexed by the Roman Empire in the first century AD.
Algeria was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for over 300 years, from 1515 to 1830, when it was conquered by France. Algerian nationalist movements gained momentum in the early 20th century. After World War two, these movements grew, culminating in the Algerian war of independence in 1954. The war lasted eight years, and resulted in Algeria gaining independence from colonial France.
The Algerian civil war lasted through the 1990s, while the Algerian military fought the Islamic Salvation Front. The military won after almost a decade of war, and the Islamic Salvation Army disbanded in 2000. The 1999 elections, widely viewed as fraudulent, were won by Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was backed by the military. Bouteflika has remained in power since. At 81, he suffers from numerous health issues and has been rarely seen in public after suffering a stroke in 2013.
Algeria has adversarial ties with Morocco due to the issue of the Western Sahara; Algeria rejects Moroccan administration of the region. Morocco annexed Western Sahara after Spain withdrew from the region in 1975. Algeria shelters the Polisario Front, which fights for independence from Moroccan rule. The Polisario Front represents the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Sahrawi people.
On Thursday, an Algerian military plane crashed near Algiers. Algerian officials have reported that 257 people died in the crash. The plane took off from Boufarik in Blida Province, 30 kilometres west of the capital. The plane was on a course to Tindouf in west Algeria, which is close to the border with Western Sahara, and houses refugees from the region. The flight would have then headed to Béchar, which is on the Moroccan border.
Among the dead were 10 crew members and 30 Western Saharans. Secretary General of the National Liberation of Algeria noted that 26 were members of the Polisario independence movement. The Algerian defence ministry has told media that most passengers on the plane were army personnel and their families.
The aircraft was a Russian-built Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane. Five survivors have been taken to local hospitals. Reuters reported that doctors who were on strike over work conditions, “resumed work to treat the survivors.” "In this painful ordeal, the government members offer their deepest condolences to the families of the victims," a cabinet statement said.
This plane crash is the third most deadly plane crash in the last 15 years. It is the 16th worst air accident in history, according to the Aviation Safety Network. Algeria has experienced other aviation disasters in recent years. In 2014, another military flight crashed in east Algeria killing 77; months later an Air Algerie flight between Burkina Faso and Algeria crashed in Mali, and killed all 116 passengers. The country has also seen smaller incidents that have resulted in the death of pilots.
Officials have yet to determine the cause of this tragedy, and according to some analysts, there may be little investigation on the issue. “The people will resign themselves to it because there is no information,” Lahouari Addi, an Algerian political scientist from Lyon’s Institut d’Etudes Politiques told New York Times. “Public opinion will simply repeat, as usual, that there is corruption everywhere. There is no transparency in Algeria, no debate.”
Our assessment is that Algerian officials must be held accountable for a tragedy of this scale; the state must provide an explanation. Investigation will be necessary to reveal whether this crash was a result of political sabotage or technical difficulties.