Following General Ahmed Gaïd Salah’s death, President Abdelmajid Tebboune appointed the 74-year-old Major-General Saïd Chengriha as interim Army Chief of Staff. The two generals were very close for a long time having often served together in the same command in the early 1980s. Chengriha would certainly have known of Gaïd Salah’s desire for Tebboune to be appointed president. Whether he would have been fully aware of the plot against Gaïd Salah by intelligence chief General Bouazza Ouassini is less certain and remains to seen (Algeria Politics & Security 29.11.19; 20.12.19).
Whether — or for how long — Chengriha remains in post is open to speculation. After Gaïd Salah’s 2004 appointment as chief of staff, he promoted many army officers who had committed war crimes in the so-called Dirty War of the 1990s and had ‘blood on their hands’. One was Chengriha who was in charge of the Relizane region at the time of the Ramka massacres — named after a suburb of Relizane — in which 1,000-1,400 civilians were killed in at least seven massacres in the Relizane area between 31 December 1997 and 06 January 1998. Although they were conducted on the orders of the Département du renseignement et de la sécurité (DRS), Chengriha was the army commander in charge of the region and therefore had to take a large share of the responsibility.
He also committed major war crimes in the Lakhdaria area during his previous command as colonel and second in command to General Abdelaziz Medjahed. The two were appointed by the then Army Chief of Staff, General Mohamed Lamari, to create an ‘operational anti-subversive centre’ in the Lakhdaria region. One of the officers serving directly under Chengriha — who witnessed and recorded many of the war crimes committed by him — was 2nd Lt Habib Souaïdia who subsequently wrote La Sale Guerre (The Dirty War) (La Découverte, 2001). Unfortunately for both Tebboune and Chengriha, key sections from La Sale Guerre detailing Chengriha’s war crimes were republished on 28 December. They have been widely circulated in Algeria on social media. Therefore, if Tebboune confirms Chengriha as Army Chief of Staff, it will also confirm Tebboune’s support for the eradicator generals with ‘blood on their hands’ and make it more difficult for him to negotiate with the Hirak and other opposition elements, if he decides to do so.