Algeria 1956


Source: Saadi Yacef, Souvenirs de la Bataille d'Alger. Julliard, Paris, 1962.
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)

Saadi Yacef commanded the FLN forces during the battle of Algiers. His memoirs of the battle served as the basis for Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece, in which he starred, reprising the role he played in real life. In this excerpt he talks about Ali-la-Pointe, one of the heroes of the battle.

I met him for the first time around the end of December 1955, in the middle of the Casbah of Algiers. I found before me a handsome brown-haired man with the build of an athlete who, without big words, made known to me his calm resolution to fight and die for the independence of the Algerian fatherland.

His first armed action in the ranks of the soldiers without uniform of the ALN took place at the beginning of 1956. It was directed against a police informant and was crowned with success.

This confirmed me in my first impression, that is, that I was dealing with a truly elite personality. I decided to take him with me and install him in my own hideout, which was situated on the rue des Abderames. I myself was already being sought by the police. Ali’s presence at my side contributed to the strengthening of the security conditions of our small group of leaders.

In fact, it was he who first suggested to me the idea of a hidden passageway that would permit us, in case of alert, to rapidly find ourselves on the terraces of the houses situated near our hideout of the moment. The idea was often put into practice, and it was often its use that that allowed us to escape and thus save our lives. At these moments Ali remembered all the techniques of his skill as a mason.

Always in the vanguard of action, with extraordinary courage he multiplied his acts of bravery, extraordinary courage and audacity. Almost all of his actions ended in success...

Our capture was considered one of the major objectives of the colonialist apparatus. But since the Casbah had become, thanks to the organization, a veritable maquis as impenetrable as our djebels of Kabylia and the Aurès, the decision was taken by the enemy to create “counter-terrorist” groups composed of natives in order to attempt to destroy our networks. In fact, the “ultra” leaders and the police appealed to the lowest members of the Algiers Muslim underworld. With difficulty, they managed to gather together a few of them.

One of them, Abdelkader Rafai, alias Bud Abbot, a notorious pimp, was particularly zealous in this sad task in service to the police. It was he who, along with others, placed a bomb in the home of a Muslim doctor known for his sympathy for the FLN.

His evil deeds can’t be counted. His arrogance and his contempt for the people were publicly displayed. He thought that the protection of the colonial apparatus rendered him invulnerable.

The justice of the FLN having condemned him to death. Ali requested the honor of killing him, and the mission was confided to him; brother Arbadji Abderahmane was assigned along with Ali.

Once the necessary information was gathered it was handed over to Ali. The date of the execution was fixed for March 29, 1956.

That day, on the rue Héliopolis in Algirers, Abdelkader Rafai was dining in the company of some people as contemptible as he. It was during this dinner that Rafai and his terrorized friends saw appear before them Ali and Arbadji. Rafai’s cowardice was on display for all to see.

Understanding that his last hour had come, he asked for grace and begged for the pity and forgiveness of the organization. Ali, who didn’t lose sight of the psychological aspect of things, took the time to explain to everyone there the reasons for the FLN’s decision. It was only after this commentary on a regular and fair verdict that the machineguns began to spit out death. The body of Rafai was filled with bullets. The carrying out of this sentence installed a veritable terror in all circles of the Algiers underworld. The personality of the executor of justice and the tales told by the survivors had much to do with this. Many members of this milieu sought contact with the organization in order to escape a fate identical to that of “Bud Abbot.”

The FLN increased its demands, which can be summed up as follows:

1. Confiscation of all individual arms in order to enrich the stock of the ALN;

2. Elimination of drug trafficking (cocaine, opium, kif).

3. Elimination of games of chance and the ignominious exploitation that is prostitution, while waiting for the later creation of conditions for the complete liquidation of this plague;

4. A selection in order to detect those elements still healthy and recoverable and capable of voluntarily accepting the difficult sacrifices of the combat for national independence;

5. Gathering of information and funds, and the placing at our disposition of safe refuges.

Taken together, these objectives were largely reached, though most of these elements, for reasons of legitimate authority, were kept outside the organization itself. Naturally, there was a considerable quantity of individual arms turned over to the organization.

Those, and they weren’t numerous, who refused to bow before the will of the FLN by continuing their “work” of informing were pitilessly liquidated.

This was the case, for example, of a certain Medjebri, alias Lemdani, who ran a Moorish café on the rue de la Randon. There, too, it was Ali who intervened at the head of a small commando. Medjebri and two of his acolytes were the only ones targeted.

At the moment Ali entered the main room of this Moorish café a large number of customers were already there. Despite this, Ali aimed his fire with remarkable precision and managed only to hit the three condemned men and avoided causing any innocent victims.

After each of these actions he was conscious of having carried out a doubly useful task. In fact, on one hand he eliminated a slyly effective enemy of the organization; on the other he increasingly liberated the inhabitants of the Casbah — they who were also daily victims of the often brutal conduct of these auxiliaries of the police — from fear.

His love for the people manifested itself on every occasion, and it came to be known to all. In particular, he earned the unanimous gratitude of all of the inhabitants of the Casbah the day he executed a police agent named Sahraoui. The latter was a zealous police officer who participated in the tortures inflicted on patriots and who, while going home, amused himself by overturning the carts of street merchants and stepping on their merchandise. He actions were even more odious the day a patriot, after bitter resistance, was killed near his home. In order to give an idea of his zeal to his colleagues and superiors who were there, he came out of his house in pajamas, revolver in hand, shouting insults, in order to put the last bullet in the head of the already dead patriot. On the announcement of the death of Sahraoui Muslims congratulated each other on the streets, as if it were a party.

Sometimes Ali’s love for the people manifested itself in a particularly moving fashion. Here is one example among many others.

We had to hold an important meeting. It was decided it would be held away from any spot already used. The militants charged with the material organization of the meeting quickly found a patriot who declared himself ready to receive us. Ali accompanied me when the time came to go there. Our host, Amar Blis was waiting for us in front of the door to his house. The other brothers were already inside. We climbed a narrow and poorly lit stairway. Once we arrived at the end, our host invited us to bend over in order to pass through an opening at a height of about one meter, until we finally gained access to his “apartment” Having followed his recommendations, we entered the “apartment.” Immediately to the right there was a small, extremely narrow, hallway, about two meters long, aired out by a kind of natural porthole. A big hole, imperfectly hidden by a piece of old material of no particular color was in front of us. We quickly learned that in this hole — used as a second room — were the wife and many children of our friend.

The atmosphere was un-breathable and the odor unbearable. We were nauseous. had never had the occasion to see laid out before me such atrocious poverty. Ali had tears in his eyes. He couldn’t bear the sight of so horrible a spectacle. He didn’t understand how humans could live in such conditions.

He immediately made me a proposition that I quickly accepted. It was simple: we had to take these patriots from this frightful situation by acquiring a small house in the Casbah in order to make them a gift of it. And this was done. A few days later the keys to a modest house with three small rooms, a kitchen and a sunny terrace were turned over to the unfortunate brother, who couldn’t believe his eyes and who cried tears of joy.

This fact of minor importance considerably reinforced the authority of the Front among the little people of the Casbah. In fact — and this was to our great surprise, for we hadn’t revealed anything of this act of simple human solidarity — everyone had learned of the conditions under which brother Blis had changed residence. Everything was known, including our intervention, the intervention of the FLN.

Arrested a few months later within the framework of his ordinary activity as a militant, brother Amar was horribly tortured for many days and nights. His torturers wanted to force him to deliver the address of my hide-out and that of Ali-la-Pointe. He showed superhuman courage and in the face of the policemen declared that he preferred to die rather than denounce us.

In all these circumstances Ali, very much touched, felt himself surrounded by the warm and fraternal affection of the people. Nothing could give him more touching satisfaction.

He constantly did honor to that confidence in delivering ever more terrible blows to the enemy and his henchmen, until the day he fell himself, arms in hand. He dies with the certitude in his heart of an Algeria soon to be free and independent. An Algeria where poverty and exploitation would no longer exist. He gave his life for a sovereign fatherland, where the people will be the sole master of its destiny, a nation where citizens of all origins will be equal and brothers, and where the arbitrariness of dictatorship could never be established. A modern Algeria, mindful of justice and peace in the Maghreb, in Africa and in the world.

Such was Ali-la-Pointe; a hero, a patriot, a man!