Suspected killers of Algeria Berber musician Lounes Matoub given 12 years in prison

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An Algerian court on Monday sentenced to 12 years in prison two men accused of assassinating popular Algerian singer Lounes Matoub in 1998.

The court in Tizi Ouzou – 110 km east of the capital Algiers – found Malik Madjnoun and Abdelhakim Chenoui, who have been held in jail without trial for about 12 years, involved in the attack against Matoub on June 25, 1998, by an Islamist armed group.

The two men have almost completed their 12-year sentences and will be free within a few months.

“I’m not happy with this verdict because my client should have been acquitted,” Madjnoun’s lawyer Ait Habib Boubekeur told AFP. “He must wait eight months to get out.”

Matoub, who was known for upholding Berber culture and seeking official recognition of his people and their language, was gunned down aged 42 in Tala Bouinane, five kilometers (three miles) from the Kabylie capital Tizi Ouzou.

Monday’s hearing in Tizi Ouzou was suspended for 30 minutes while the singer’s sister Malika Matoub, his mother Aldjia Matoub and members of the Lounes Matoub Foundation chanted “Free Madjoun and Chenoui! Find the real perpetrators!” in the courtroom.

When the trial restarted a short time later, Malika interrupted proceedings to argue with the judge, shouting that the accused men had “nothing to do with” the case, resulting in the hearing being suspended for a second time.

She demanded that Hassan Hattab, a leader of the armed extremist Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, who claimed responsibility for the killing, appear in court instead. Mr. Hattab gave himself up to police in October 2007.

Madjoun and Chenoui are part of a group of 10 people suspected of killing Matoub and have been in prison awaiting trial for the murder since 1998.

The other eight suspects are either on the run or have been killed by security forces.

Chenoui was taken out of the courtroom on Monday after he started shouting “I am innocent!”

One of the lawyers representing the accused men, Amine Sidhoum, told the courtroom: “I sympathize with the Matoub family and I ask that the trial continue despite the family walking out because two innocent people are in prison and have the right to be judged.”

He added that it was “a disgrace for Algerian justice” that the men had been held without trial for so long.

Matoub’s murder caused an uproar in Algeria and came during a civil war between Islamic extremists and the security forces.

Matoub’s widow Nadia has blamed the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) for Matoub’s death but his sister and mother believed there were other possibilities including a politically motivated killing.

(Mustapha Ajbaili, Night Editor of Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: [email protected])