Disasters & Accidents

Algerian gov’t blames arson for devastating wildfires

Algiers, Aug 12 (EFE).- As scores of wildfires continued to rage Thursday across northern Algeria’s Kabylie region and the death toll reached 73, including 28 soldiers who perished fighting the flames, the government pointed the finger at arsonists.

“Justice will pursue each individual author of crimes against Algerians and the forests,” Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane said during a visit to Tizi Ouzou province, which accounts for 38 of the 92 identified fires.

On Wednesday, residents of Larbaâ Nath Irathen, a municipality in Tizi Ouzou, killed a man who had traveled to the area from another part of the country to help battle the flames.

Mistakenly believing the volunteer to be an arsonist, the mob overpowered police and beat 35-year-old Djamel Ben Ismail before burning him alive in an incident captured on video.

A number of people were arrested Thursday in the town on suspicion of involvement in the lynching.

The fires coincide with a brutal heat wave blanketing much of the Mediterranean region that has sent temperatures in Algeria soaring as high as 47 C (115 F).

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune acknowledged Thursday in a nationally broadcast address that the weather was a factor, but maintained that arson was the chief culprit.

“Some fires have been caused by high temperatures but criminal hands were behind most of them,” he said. “We have arrested 22 suspects, including 11 in Tizi Ouzou. Justice will perform its duty.”

The Algerian military’s response, including troops on the ground and six helicopters, was reinforced Thursday by a pair of firefighting planes from the European Union.

Three more aircraft will arrive from Europe in the coming days, Tebboune said. EFE


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