Slain French monks among 19 to be beatified in Algeria

A picture taken on November 28, 2018, shows a picture of the seven French Trappist monks glued on a door at the Tibhirine monastery. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2018

Slain French monks among 19 to be beatified in Algeria

  • The Catholic Church will beatify in Algeria seven French monks and 12 other clergy killed during the country’s civil war
  • The Trappist monks were abducted from the Priory of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine

ORAN: The Catholic Church will on Saturday beatify in Algeria seven French monks and 12 other clergy killed during the country’s civil war, the first ceremony of its kind in a Muslim nation.
The Trappist monks were abducted from the Priory of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Algiers, by gunmen in March 1996.
Their severed heads were discovered two months later and their deaths were announced by the insurgent Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA).
The tragedy inspired a 2010 French film, “Des Hommes et des Dieux,” (Of Gods and Men) starring Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale that won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Vatican declared in January that the monks were martyrs for their faith, along with the 12 others slain in Algeria between 1994 and 1996, including Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran.
Frenchman Claverie, who strove to improve ties between different faiths, was assassinated along with his driver in a bomb attack at his office in 1996.
The five other religious men and six women killed, including citizens of France, Spain, Belgium and one born in Tunis, were gunned down in 1994 and 1995.
Beatification is the first step on the path to Roman Catholic sainthood.
It is reserved for three categories of people: martyrs, those who have lived a life of heroic values, and others with a clear saintly reputation.

Some 200,000 people lost their lives in Algeria’s 1991-2002 civil war between Islamists and security forces, dubbed the country’s “Black Decade.”
Archbishop of Algiers, Paul Desfarges, said the ceremony in the northwestern port city of Oran was “a way to highlight” the dedication of the 19 men and women who remained in the country during the violence.
“They did not hesitate to risk their lives because the most important thing for them was their relationship with others, rather than protecting themselves,” he told AFP.
Father Thomas Georgeon, who presented the case in Rome for the beatification, said it was the first time the Church would carry out such a ceremony in a Muslim country.
He insisted the move was not intended to “glorify the death of Christians at the hands of Muslims, but to mark their deaths alongside those of so many Algerian martyrs.”
The Algerian authorities in April officially gave the Vatican approval for the beatification to take place in the North African country.
The event will be presided over by Pope Francis’s envoy Angelo Becciu.
Archbishop Desfarges said he hoped the beatification would serve to reinforce the ties between the Catholic Church and the people of Algeria — just like the work of those being celebrated.
“We did not want to hold the beatification just among Christians as these brothers and sisters died alongside dozens and dozens of thousands of Algerians,” he said.
“We want to continue to be the church of friendship, brotherhood and coexistence.”

Kurd forces welcome US decisionto keep 200 troops

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar. (AP)
Updated 49 min 25 sec ago

Kurd forces welcome US decisionto keep 200 troops

  • White House unveils plan to maintain ‘a small peacekeeping force’ in Syria

BEIRUT, WASHINGTON: The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria welcomed a US decision to keep 200 American troops in the country after a pullout, saying it would protect their region and may encourage European states to keep forces there too.

“We evaluate the White House decision ... positively,” Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told Reuters.

The White House announced the plans on Thursday to keep “a small peacekeeping force” in Syria, partly reversing a decision by President Donald Trump in December to pull out the entire 2,000-strong force.

Trump’s abrupt announcement of the pullout had been opposed by senior aides including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who quit in response, and stunned allies including the Kurdish-led SDF, which fought against Daesh with US backing for years.

“This decision may encourage other European states, particularly our partners in the international coalition against terrorism, to keep forces in the region,” Omar added.

“I believe that keeping a number of American troops and a larger number of (other) coalition troops, with air protection, will play a role in securing stability and protecting the region too,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had harshly criticized Trump’s decision to pull US forces out of Syria, applauded the president’s decision to leave a few hundred as part of an “international stabilizing force.” Graham said it will ensure that Turkey will not get into a conflict with SDF forces, which helped the US fight Daesh militants. 

Moreover, Graham said leaving a small force in Syria will serve as a check on Iranian ambitions and help ensure that Daesh militants do not try to return.

“A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS (Daesh), protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria,” Graham said.

Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the decision a “betrayal of our Kurdish partners.”

The SDF is led by a Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers an enemy. Kurdish officials had feared that a total US withdrawal would create a security vacuum and allow Turkey to launch a long-promised offensive against them.

The Kurds, who seek autonomy within Syria, have made overtures to the government of Bashar Assad, seeking security guarantees as Washington withdraws.

“I believe that these forces in this region ... will be a motivation, an incentive and also a means of pressure on Damascus to try seriously to have a dialogue to resolve the Syrian crisis,” Omar said. 

The SDF is currently involved in a standoff over the final sliver of land held by Daesh in eastern Syria, close to the Iraq border.

Many believe the Daesh threat will not end with the pocket’s recapture and an insurgency is underway. 

In a foreboding sign on Thursday, Daesh claimed responsibility for back-to-back suicide attacks that hit a village miles away, leaving more than a dozen people dead in a rare targeting of civilians.

It is unclear where the 200 remaining US troops will be stationed.

The U.S. military has a limited network of bases inside Syria. Troops work mostly out of small camps in remote parts of the country’s northeast.

Also, U.S. troops are among 200 to 300 coalition troops at a garrison in southern Syria known as al-Tanf, where they train and accompany local Syrian opposition forces on patrols to counter the IS group. Al-Tanf is on a vital road linking Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon — and Israel’s doorstep.

Trump spoke Thursday with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“On Syria, the two presidents agreed to continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone,” the White House said in a statement about the call.

The White House also said acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford will be hosting their Turkish counterparts in Washington this week for further talks.