Algeria’s Ministry of National Defence has acknowledged that its forces fired on a group of people on jet skis who strayed into Algerian waters from Morocco on Tuesday and that a body was later found. The shooting has provoked national anger in Morocco.
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On Monday, Morocco’s National Council for Human Rights strongly condemned the Algerian coastguard’s use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians, decrying the incident as a “severe violation of international standards and human rights laws”.
Separately on Monday, several dozen Moroccan human rights activists gathered outside the country’s parliament headquarters in Rabat, denouncing “the Algerian military regime” and brandishing signs demanding accountability for the incident.
The North African neighbours have no diplomatic relations and their maritime border has been closed since the 1990s because of long-running disputes, mainly over the territory of Western Sahara. But deadly confrontations at sea are unusual.
Moroccan media contend that Algerian forces killed two vacationers in the incident last week. France says a French citizen was among those killed and another French citizen was detained.
The men killed were cousins. Bilal Kissi, was a 29-year-old French-Moroccan, while Abdelali Mechouar, 40, was a Moroccan resident of France, according to the AFP news agency. Moroccan media outlets had previously reported that both of the men who had died were French-Moroccan dual nationals.
The Algerian defence ministry said in a statement late Sunday that coastguard units had intercepted three jet skis that had clandestinely entered Algerian waters.
“Given the increased activity of drug trafficking gangs and organised crime in this maritime border region and the obstinacy of those riding the water scooters [jet skis], coastguard personnel fired warning shots. After several attempts, shots were fired, forcing one of the water scooters to stop, while the other two fled,” the statement said.
The next day, an Algerian coastguard patrol recovered the body of a man with a bullet hole from a firearm, the statement said, without elaborating. Moroccan forces recovered another body, according to Moroccan media reports.
Bilal’s brother Mohamed, who was also on the jet skis, had told a Moroccan media outlet that he, his brother and friends were on holiday and riding personal watercraft off the coast of the Moroccan town of Saaidia when they ran low on gas and drifted into Algerian territory. Bilal Kissi was buried in the area last week. Mechouar’s family is seeking repatriation of his body from the Algerian forces, according to Moroccan media reports.
Moroccan officials have not provided details about what happened.
Moroccan prosecutors opened an investigation into a “violent sea incident” involving five people on water scooters, the official Moroccan news agency MAP reported.
Moroccan human rights protesters have called for tougher action. Idris Sedrouai, president of the Moroccan Association for Citizenship and Human Rights, speaking at the protest, characterised the incident as a “deliberate and premeditated assassination”.
Sedrouai said his association, along with other like-minded organisations, is studying the possibility of filing a lawsuit in international courts against the leaders of the Algerian army.