Account of The Algerian Urban Guerrilla Network and Its Role in The FLN’s Campaign during The Battle of Algiers (1956-1958)

Abder-Rahmane Derradji
2.163 359


Algerian guerrilla network has been studied from different angles and perspectives within the framework of either Algerian history, or FLN nationalism. This paper is an attempt to highlight the birth, growth and demise of the Algiers Autonomous Zone, (ZAA) as was launched by the FLN in mid 1956 in Algiers. Its aim is also to investigate the FLN urban guerrilla and terror network in general, and see its impact on the Algerian rural campaign, including strategy and tactics. Accordingly, it will also search French counter-insurgency response using French paratroopers and institutionalisation of extensive torture as well as, interrogation to extract information from FLN captured guerrillas. 


Guerrilla & urban guerrillas, terrorism, nationalism, Jihad, Counter-terrorism

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Algiers was given at the Summam Conference of 1956, a special status because of its location and nature. It was divided into three main targets: Algiers Centre, Algiers West and Algiers East, where each part was directed by a "Council" divided into three branches: 1 - Politico-military; 2 - Financial; and 3 - Intelligence. For further information refer to Philippe Tripier in "L'Autopsie de la guerre d'Algérie", p. 197.

Tripier, Philippe. L'Autopsie de La guerre d'Algérie, Paris Editions, France-Empire, 1972, p. 131.

Ibid, p. 134. At the Summit, the politico-financial branch was directed by the Zonal Political Commissar who was also at the same time the politico-financial chief's assistant to the ZAA. Philippe Tripier estimated the Autonomous Zone of Algiers finance at the end of 1956, from 100 to 20 million of old French Francs per month. "Autopsie de la guerre d'Algérie". Paris, éditions, France-empire, 1972, p. 134.

Fidayeen or a Fidai is an urban guerrilla fighter ready to carry out delicate missions and die for the cause.

Ibid, p. 132.

Yacef, Saadi. Souvenir sur la Bataille d'Alger, Paris, 1962, p. 35.

Tripier, Philippe. L'Autopsie de La guerre d'Algérie, p. 133. The head of the zonal branch directed by five committees forming some kind of an "Etat-Major' and was partially put at the service of the CCE: The Committee of Liaisons ensures the clandestine mail with the military Wilayas, the FLN's federation in the Metropole, the organisation of the FLN with the CCE and with the forces already established in both Tunisia and Morocco. The Committees of intelligence were in charge of spying on the French administration and on the Muslim Unities working for France. The Committee of the Press was in charge of informing the consul of zones, propaganda circulation as well as for psychological actions. The Committee of justice was in charge of control over the execution of directives already decided by the central organ. The Sanitary Committee was dedicated to medical supplies and medicine preparation and was assigned to work towards the creation of an Algerian Red Cross. And finally the trade unions-committee was in charge of organising and leading workers’ strikes and protest marches. Despite this detailed specialisation, there were common duties where one branch would occasionally do the other's work in order to maintain survival in case of French detection.

Yacef, Saadi. Souvenirs sur la Bataille d'Alger, p. 10. Reserve-Networks were led by a prominent militant called Zoubir Bouadjadj, who was responsible for La Redoute-Clos-Salembier, Bir Mandraeis, Ruisseau and Belcourt sectors. On November 16th 1954 Zoubir was arrested with his group consisting of: Belouizdad, Merzougui, Kaci Abdallah Mokhtar, Kaci Abdallah Abderrahmane and Guesmia, as well as Yacef himself. ibid.

Tripier, Philippe. L'Autopsie de La guerre d'Algérie, p. 233. See also Yacef, Saadi. Souvenirs sur la Bataille d'Alger, p. 20.

Yacef, Saadi. Souvenirs sur la Bataille D'Alger, Tome I, Edition Unité de Reghaia 1984, p. 86.

Ibid, p. 137.

Pêgre: is a French word meaning the pimp's milieu and brigandage. It consisted of men and women who were entangled in prostitution, gambling, black markets and drug smuggling.

Ali la Pointe: was the first individual pimp who converted to the FLN's urban guerrilla. His real name was Ali Ammar originating from Miliana. He was Yacef's henchman and later became his lieutenant throughout the war until his death.

Ibid, pp. 151-152. In a secret meeting between Ali La Pointe, Yacef Saadi, Ahmed Chaib, Cherif Debih and Salah, Algiers was divided into three regions: The first consisted of Chateau Neuf, El Biar, La Casbah, La Ville Europeenne and Champs de Manoeuvre East. Second, of Maison Careé passing by Belcourt-region, Clos-Salembier, La Redoute, Kouba, Birmandreis, Hydra and Hussein-Dey. As regarded the third part, it covered Bab El Oued to Guyotville, Beau Fraisier, Frais Vallon, Notre Dame d'Afrique and Saint Eugene to the west.

Ibid, pp. 157-58. This was the case of "Bud Abbot" who was shot by Ali La Pointe for his collaboration with France. The lists of those executed by the ZAA’s members were many. For instance, the "Sous-brigadier" Sahraoui a pro-French, by Ali La Pointe and Hamadi on April 19th at 20.55pm at 28 of La Rue Brahim Fatah. Merakeche Mohamed was also executed by Ali La Pointe whereas; Medjebri another pimp enemy was liquidated by FLN agents in Paris. Hocine Bourtachi "Le Bonois" was suppressed by Omar Hamadi, an FLN man at 3 Rue des Abderames.

Yacef Saadi in "La Bataille D'Alger” estimated the MNA strength in the city (during that period) to 3,000 members, p. 161.

Ibid, p. 161.

For example, that "Europeans and Muslims were not socially and residentially segregated: They lived in the same quarters, mixed, ate and drank together". World Today, Vol., 18, No. 4, April 1962, p. 136.

The term of French Europeans or Europeans is used her to refer to the French by nationality or by birth, or origin including the Jews of Algeria who had been granted French citizenship and rights in accordance with the Cremieux Decree of 1871.

For example, the low Casbah was absorbing an enormous number of shanty towns: Cité Mahieddine, El Kettar, Fontaine Fraiche, Les Flancs du ravin de la femme sauvage, clos Salembier and clos d' H.Dey. Pierre Chaulet, "Parti Pris". Majallat Ettarikh (Journal of History), No. 17, 2e Semestre, Alger, 1984, pp. 82-83.

Chaulet, Pierre. Parti Pris, p. 83.

Behr, Edward. The Algerian Problem, pp. 111-12.

Lartegy, Jean. Les Centurions, Press de la cité Paris, 1960, p. 327. See also Mansell, Gerard. Tragedy in Algeria, Oxford University Press, London, 1961, p. 59.

Horne, Alistair. A savage war of Peace, pp. 191-192.

Megherbi, Abdelghani. Culture et Personnalité Algerienne de Massinissa à nos jours, Enterprise nationale du livre, Alger 1986, pp. 33-37.

Fares, Mohamed. La Participation des travailleurs Algériens émigrés en France á la lutte de Libération Nationale 1954-1962, Colloque International d'Alger, 24 Novembre, Alger, Bruxelles, 1984, pp. 109-125.

Yacef, Saadi. La Bataille d'Alger, p. 144. A Fidai or a Fidaiya is a soldier of the national liberation army specialised in urban guerrilla warfare. He or she can be a simple soldier or a responsible officer of intelligence of many armed groups, or of an entire military sector. The Fidai should not know - in the ZAA and the FLN's lexicon - more than three members of the structure, whom he usually operates with: (The leader who chooses him and two other advisers only). The contacts between the three must be however, through writing or contacts at meeting points usually in public places viz.: cafés, public Turkish baths, shops and open markets. The managers and keepers of these properties know only the superficial aspects of the general meetings. The messengers do not reveal their messages unless the secret password is given. Most of the time members of the organisation operate at the same place, and at the same time, but without knowing each other.

Ibid, pp. 232-235. Ahmed Zabana was captured on May in a bloody confrontation against the French army near St. Denis Sig 50 km of Oran, as for Abdel Kader Ferradj, he was arrested later. In order to increase the morale of the Muslim population, the FLN declared in a written tract that "all executions of the captured Combattants would be avenged, one Algerian Muslim for ten French civilians". Yacef himself had instructed one of the firing groups of La Rue des Thébes ordering them to stick on the victim's body: Zabana, Ferredi you are avenged, ibid. p. 235. There was also the bombing of La rue des Thébes claimed by the Ultra pied-noirs.

Alistaire, Horne. A Savage war of Peace, p. 183.

Apart from the very few Jews who were members of the Algerian Communist Party and sympathisers with the ALN cause such as Sadok Hajres, the others were entirely perceived by the FLN, as pieds-noirs and supporters of the colonial administration.

Campbell, Arthur. Guerrillas: A History and Analysis, Liverpool, London and Prescot 1967, p. 239.

Horne, Alistair. A savage war of peace, p. 184.

Ibid, p. 286.

Ibid, p. 191. O'Ballance wrote that "This [Method] caused fear and uneasiness, which in turn resulted in tying down more troops on security duties in the cities, and so leaving fewer available to hunt insurgents in the mountains and countryside", O'Ballance, Edgar, The Algerian insurrection, p. 54.

Yacef Saadi, La Bataille d'Alger, pp. 41-42. A - Yacef gave Taleb Abderrahmane three weeks to do an experiment. After the consultation of useful book on Pyrotechny which was elaborated by a French colonel during the First World War but was irrelevant compared with the new techniques and on Dimitrium Aphtalen [a theory generated by a German scientist L. D. called Von Brawn at the University of Berlin, Taleb adopted the name of Schneidrite (Naphtaline, Nitric acid and sulphuric) to establish the first bomb for the FLN. Taleb Abderrahmane who was a brilliant student of chemistry at the faculty of Algiers became an FLN militant in March 1955 and was introduced to the ZAA by H'Didouche, and Salah Bazi in the Casbah in a place called "L'impasse de la grenade]. Yacef, Saad. "La Bataille d'Alger". Tome I, pp. 227-243. B - The bombing campaign required big personnel where everyone was in charge of a specific duty. Names viz: Marsali Abdelghani, Mustapha Bouchouchi, Rachid Kouache, Abdelkader Ladjali, Ali Berrezouane, Cherif Debih etc. were amongst the first volunteers to prepare the bombs by providing clocks, wooden boxes and detonators to practice on. Yacef argued that they were working up to ten hours per day except during the time of curfews where they had to hide their pieces of equipment. "During the bomb's mounting we needed all the experts at the same time". The first bomb was born on August 22nd 1956 and was tested at a small beach called "Plage des Chevaux" located in Bab El Oued where the volunteers of death were chosen according to their degrees of courage and their command of the French language. Ibid, p. 282

Ibid, p. 29.

Ibid, p. 248.

Teguia, Mohamed. L'Algérie en guerre, pp. 272-73.

Ibid, p. 288. It was agreed that the communists would be operating under the control of the FLN only and would have no links with their former party all throughout the war. As regarded the party itself, it was allowed to maintain its political autonomy. Its leaders who had not been arrested viz: Bachir Hadj Ali and Sadok Hadjres remained in Clandestineity in the interior of the country until the day of independence. See also Yacef, Saadi. La Bataille d'Ager, p. 151. Teguia, Mohamed. L'Algerie en guerre, p. 287. The communists had good implementation within the Aures and the Cheliff regions and amongst the peasants of Themcen region. There were also other communist - "Foyers" around Ain M'Lila within the Constantinois, Sidi Bel Abbes and amongst the nomads of Ain Sefra regions. Ibid, p. 276. The case of Henri Maillot, a communist who deserted the French army on April 4th 1956 with a lorry of arms and ammunition was helpful to the FLN, because part of it had been directed to the maquis. Mohamed, Tenguia estimated this armament at 126 machine guns, 62 shot-guns, 84 revolvers, and a thousand rounds of ammunition, a quantity to arm two Katibas and several groups. For further information refer to Teguia, M. L'Algérie en guerre, p. 279. The examples were many: For instance the combined assassination of Gerard Etienne (a prominent ultra and anti-FLN, a cinema and a bar' owner) who was famous for his plots against Muslim civilians in bombing and kidnapping. The operation was allocated to Yahia Briki assisted by Abdel Kader Ben Barek. Yacef, Saadi, La Bataille, p. 271. There was also, the case of Fernand Yveton who was supposed to bomb the Gaz factory of "La Compagnie Lebon" and failed, then was captured by the French police and guillotined. Ibid, pp. 65-66. On the collaboration of the communists with ZAA - FLN members, see also, Djamila Bouhired' testimony, Majalat Ettarikh [History Magazine], Centre national des Études historiques, pp. 109-111.

CDL: Les combatants deliberation d’Alger was allocated to a communist called Mr. Benzine from September to December 1955 and assisted by Mr. Georges Acampora, in military questions and Andre Castel, in liaisons and supplies. See Teguia Mohamed, L'Algérie en Guerre, pp. 272-273.

O'Ballance, Edgar. The Algerian insurrection, p. 151.

Ghandriche who was put in a flat at "La Rue d'Isly near cinema "Marivaux" started operating as a double agent and informing about his FLN colleagues through messages. Through these writings and contacts Ghandriche, managed to discover Yacef's hideout, and on September 24th 1957 around ten thousand Para, Zouaves and gendarmes surrounded, at mid-night, the Casbah. The intention was to blow up the whole area with TNT, but after Yacef accepted surrender in order to save the inhabitants and the remaining hidden groups, the Paras had changed their minds.[Today, a large part of the inhabitants of the Casbah still believe that it was Yacef himself who sold Ali la Pointe and his group]. See Yacef, Saadi. Souvenirs sur la Bataille d'Alger, p. 116.

Lartéguy, Jean. Les Centurions, Press de la Cité, Paris 1960, p. 380.

Talbott, John. The Myth and Reality of the Paratrooper in the Algerian War, Armed Forces and Society, Vol. 3, No, 1, November 1976, p. 71. He noted that "By the end of 1956, France had committed an armed force of more than 400, 000 men in an effort to make good this pledge", pp. 71-72.

Massu, Jack. La Vraie bataille d'Alger, Paris, PLON 1972, p. 44.

Talbott, John. The Myth and Reality of the Paratrooper in the Algerian War, p. 73.

Massu, Jack. La Vraie bataille d'Alger, pp. 30-32.

Yacef, Saadi. Souvenirs sur la Bataille d'Alger, p. 35.

Behr, Edward. The Algerian Problem, p. 114.

Jules, Roy in "J' accuse le général" wrote that "Because of torture which we had already practised in Indochina I left the army... you know better that there were not only the bombs of the FLN which would kill the children... the kids who escaped our bombardment were already training themselves at manipulating arms... those who resisted you were neither barbarians nor "Bougnouls" [stupid], but they were men who could not stand the oppression". Edition du Seuil, 1972, pp. 31-32.

Talbott, John. The Myth and Reality of the Paratrooper in the Algerian War, p. 76. See also Yacef, Saadi. Souvenirs sur la Bataille d'Alger, p. 40.

Behr, Edward. The Algerian Problem, pp. 114-5. See also Soustelle, Jack. The Algerian Tragedy and the Problems of Africa, World Today, August 1957, Vol. 13, No. 8, p. 325. Although the French Paras managed to destroy some FLN's cells, their psychological warfare against the FLN and the civilians had finally failed. For further information refer to the Press Conference of Colonel Bigeard in Le Monde, 28 Aout, 1957, p. 4. Colonel Masey, in Le Monde, 31 Aout, 1957, p. 5. Also in Sherman, Alfred. Climax in Algeria, World Today, Vol. 18, No. 4, April 1962, p. 139.

Le Colonel Sadek. Notre Armeé et sa Stratégie, Commander of Wilaya IV, El Moudjahid, 20 Aout, 1957, Volume I.

Campbell, Arthur. Guerrillas, p. 241.

Breastrup, Peter. Partisan war: Algerian Style, p. 393. He noted that "The rebels adapting tactics to resources, coupled mosquito war with skilful, if crude, political action. Their cause gained strong emotional staying power among the Muslim masses, a power to which the French have devised no effective answer. The rebels relied on the long pull, militarily and politically. The French long sought, and have repeatedly claimed, imminent military victory. The Algerian war... has progressed after more than five years to the point where, a purely military solution seems no longer possible. Both sides have arrived at a stalemate. Any breakthrough will have to be achieved at the negotiating tables". Ibid.