PARIS (Reuters) - The families of seven French Trappist monks killed in Algeria during Islamist-linked violence in 1996 accused Algiers of obstructionism on Thursday in refusing to send samples of their remains to Paris where they could be further tested.
The monks were exhumed last week from the Tibehirine monastery, 80 km (50 miles) south of Algiers, and tests conducted on their skulls, their only body parts ever recovered.
Patrick Baudouin, a lawyer for the family members, said the lack of samples thwarted an ongoing French investigation dating from 2004 that is trying to ascertain what happened 18 years ago.
Preliminary tests conducted in Algeria provided “extremely significant advances” on how the monks were executed, suggesting they may have been decapitated after death, Baudouin said at a press conference.
About 200,000 people were killed in Algeria during more than a decade of violence that erupted in the early 1990s between Islamist militants and security forces. The conflict was marked by massacres and the killing of civilians.
Algerian authorities have said the monks were abducted by militants and found dead with their throats cut two months later, but that version has been questioned by several sources.
The Islamic Armed Group (GIA), a militant group known at the time for targeting foreigners in the former French colony, claimed credit for murdering the monks.
In Algiers on Thursday, Justice Minister Tayeb Louh said normal procedures were being followed.
“The Algerian justice system is doing its job,” Louh said.
Reporting By Chine Labbe in Paris and Lamine Chikhi in Algers. Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Hugh Lawson