Tibhirine monk murders and 'bitter' reports of a super-spy

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'We can't keep playing this waiting game'

A reading of General Rondot’'s declassified reports received by Judge Trévidic earlier this year raises serious questions over the behaviour of the Algerian security forces during the Tibhirine events.

Titled 'Operation Tibhirine', the first of these reports is dated April 8th, 1996. It consists of the spymaster’'s mission report of a trip to Algiers on April 5th to 7th, several days after the monks' disappearance was announced. The document, like the others, is addressed to prefect Philippe Parant, then head of the DST.

General Rondot quickly realised that for the Algerian secret services, with whom he had constant relations, "the priority given to the survival of the monks hampers the force of the search, hence the visibly slow progress in collecting and exploiting information".

Working with Philippe Rondot was the head of the DCE, the Algerian counter-espionage upon which France’'s DST was at the time especially dependent for information. Too dependent, perhaps. In his first report, the French intelligence officer observed that "although the DCE’'s cooperation appears to be real – as long as one plays by Algier’s rules, –it must be noted that they remain our only operational source in the field." The report concluded, somewhat pessimistically: "We must remain cautious in our analysis and wary of the ‘product’ delivered by the DCE, while preparing for the worse."

A month later, on May 10th, 1996, General Rondot produced a second report. The tone is drier and, at times, sharper. The title speaks for itself: '(Bitter) Musings on the handling of the Tibhirine monks’ affair and proposals (despite it all) for action”'.

The monks had not yet been found and anxiety was rising. "We have been waiting since April 30th " he complained. "Meeting after meeting, we have been content to bounce around hypotheses but without defining, in a well-judged and precise manner, what approach we should adopt," he added.

"We can't keep playing this waiting game," he said, complaining again of the DST’s "dependence" on the "Algerian services" whom, he said, "no doubt have other priorities [political and internal security] that differ from ours regarding the survival and the liberation of the monks." The general takes his argument even further: "They can be, in fact, tempted to brutally solve what they consider to be a side story1 (as it'’s been called) which is impeding normalisation of Franco-Algerian relations (of which the GIA is well aware)."

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1: "Fait divers" in the original French.

No mobilization without confidence
No trust without truth
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The tragedy is the subject of the French film 'Des hommes et des dieux', (English title: 'Of Gods & Men'), directed by Xavier Beauvois, starring Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale. It centres on the intense and anguished soul-seraching imposed on the monks in the period running up to the kidnap, when they must decide whether they give in to threats of violence against the monastery and move away from their mission, or stay.