Algerian police said Sunday they had arrested 36 people including three women after the lynching of a man suspected of having started one of the country’s deadly forest fires.
Blazes spurred by a blistering heatwave have killed at least 90 people in the North African country in recent days, and authorities have repeatedly blamed “criminals” for the outbreaks.
“A preliminary enquiry... into the homicide, lynching, immolation and mutilation... of Jamel Ben Ismail... led to the arrest of 36 suspects including three women,” police chief Mohamed Chakour told reporters.
He said Ben Ismail, 38, had “turned himself in of his own accord” at a police station in the hard-hit Tizi Ouzou region after hearing he was suspected of involvement.
“A large crowd” quickly gathered outside, Chakour told a televised news conference.
Videos posted online show a crowd in the town of Larbaa Nath Irathen surrounding a police van, beating a man inside it. They then drag him out and set him on fire, with some taking selfies.
The shocking images were widely shared and sparked outrage in Algeria.
During Chakour’s news conference broadcast nationally videos were shown allegedly of suspects’ confessions and of footage of the incident, including someone trying to behead Ben Ismail’s burned corpse.
One man “who had stabbed the victim” was arrested “as he tried to flee to Morocco,” Chakour said, adding that an investigation was still under way.
Algeria’s LADDH human rights group called for calm as well as justice for those responsible for the “despicable murder.”
“These images constitute yet another trauma for the family and for the Algerian people, already shocked” by the fires, it said.
The victim’s father, Noureddine Ben Ismail, has been widely praised for calling for calm despite his bereavement.
Firefighters were still struggling Sunday to put out 19 blazes in northern Algeria, according to emergency services.
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