Source: Saadi Yacef, Souvenirs de la Bataille d'Alger. Julliard, Paris, 1962.
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
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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 towards the end of December 1955, in the heart of the Casbah of Algiers. Standing before me was a handsome, brown-haired man with the build of an athlete. Eschewing big words, he told me of his calm determination 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 my first impression, that I was dealing with a truly elite individual. 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, and Ali’s presence at my side contributed to the strengthening of the security of our small group of leaders.
In fact, it was he who first suggested to me the idea of a hidden passageway that, in case of alert, would permit us to rapidly reach the terraces of the houses situated near our hideout of the moment. The idea was often put into practice and in many cases allowed us to escape and save our lives. At these moments, Ali put to use all the techniques of his craft as a mason.
Always in the vanguard of action, with extraordinary courage he multiplied his acts of bravery and daring. Almost all of his actions ended in success...
Our capture was 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 enemy decided to create “counter-terrorist” groups made up of natives, in an effort to destroy our networks. In fact, the “ultra” leaders and the police appealed to the mist degraded members of the Algiers Muslim underworld. With difficulty, they managed to gather a few of them together.
One of them, Abdelkader Rafai, alias Bud Abbot, a notorious pimp, was particularly zealous in this sorry task in service to the police. It was he who, accompanied by a handful of others, placed a bomb in the home of a Muslim doctor known for his sympathy for the FLN.
His evil deeds were too many to count. He didn’t bother concealing his arrogance and contempt for the people, thinking 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 to accompany Ali.
Once the necessary intelligence was gathered it was handed over to Ali. The date of the execution was set for March 29, 1956.
That day, on the rue Héliopolis in Algiers, Abdelkader Rafai was dining in the company of a group of men as contemptible as he. It was during this dinner that Ali and Arbadji appeared before Rafai and his terrorized friends. Rafai’s cowardice was clear for all to see.
Understanding that his final hour had arrived, he asked for mercy and begged for the organization’s pity and forgiveness. Ali, who never lost sight of the psychological aspect of things, took the time to explain to all present the reasons for the FLN’s decision. It was only after this commentary on a regular and just verdict that the machineguns began to spit out death. Rafai’s body was shot full with bullets. The carrying out of this sentence spread 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 upped its demands, which were:
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. The gathering of intelligence and funds, and the placing at our disposal of safe houses.
These objectives were largely attained, though most of these individuals, for reasons of legitimate authority, were kept outside the organization itself. Naturally, a large quantity of privately owned weapons was turned over to the organization.
Those who refused to bow before the will of the FLN and continued their “work” as informants – and they weren’t numerous – 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.
There was already a large number of customers in the Moorish café when Ali entered its main room. Despite this, Ali aimed his fire with remarkable precision and managed to strike only the three condemned men and avoided causing any innocent victims.
After each of these actions he was aware of having carried out a doubly useful task. On one hand, he eliminated a cleverly effective enemy of the organization; on the other he increasingly liberated the inhabitants of the Casbah, 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 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, on his way home, would amuse himself by overturning the carts of street merchants and trampling their merchandise. His actions were even more odious the day a patriot was killed near Sahraoui’s home after bitter resistance. To demonstrate his zeal to those of his colleagues and superiors who were on the scene, he came out of his house in pajamas, revolver in hand, shouting insults, and put the final bullet in the head of the already dead patriot. When the death of Sahraoui was announced the Muslims congratulated each other on the streets, as if it were a party.
At times 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 and it was decided do so far from any location already used. The militants charged with the organization of the meeting quickly found a patriot who declared himself ready to receive us. Ali accompanied me there. Our host, Amar Blis, was waiting for us in his doorway, and the other brothers were already inside. We climbed a narrow and poorly lit stairway. Once we arrived at the end of it, 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 our friend’s wife and his many children.
The atmosphere was unbreathable and the odor unbearable. We were nauseous. I had never had the occasion to see such terrible poverty laid out before me. 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 proposal that I quickly accepted. It was simple: we had to remove 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 while performing his ordinary activities as a militant, brother Amar was brutally 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 declared to the police that he preferred to die rather than denounce us.
In all these circumstances Ali, infinitely touched, felt himself surrounded by the warm and fraternal affection of the people. Nothing could have given him more satisfaction.
He constantly did honor to that confidence by delivering ever more terrible blows to the enemy and his henchmen, until the day he himself fell, weapon in hand. He died with the certainty in his heart of an imminent free and independent Algeria, an Algeria where poverty and exploitation would no longer exist. He gave his life for a sovereign fatherland, where the people would be the sole master of their destiny, a nation where citizens of all origins would be equal and brothers, and where the arbitrariness of dictatorship could never be established. A modern Algeria, always bearing in mind justice and peace in the Maghreb, in Africa, and in the world.
That was Ali-la-Pointe: a hero, a patriot, a man!