SAIRA SHAH, ITN: An Algerian government guardsman shows us the site of a recent massacre. But the government hasn't always been this open. It's rejected calls for an independent inquiry into the wave of killings that has swept Algeria this summer. Many of the villages targeted actually supported the Islamic militants named for the attacks. Rais--a 30-minute drive from the capital--is one such town. Six weeks ago it was surrounded by men who descended on its inhabitants and slaughtered them.
WOMAN: (speaking through interpreter) We were in the middle of men who were shooting at us from two sides. They shot at our feet so that we would fall. Then they cut the throats of those who fell, except the young virgins. They took them away alive.
WOMAN: (speaking through interpreter) There were fifty or sixty people fleeing. You simply ran in a group to get to the main road, while all the time they were grabbing at us to cut our throats, throwing grenades at us.
SAIRA SHAH: When they reached the main road, the only lighted place, the villagers claim the army was already there but it didn't help them. Instead, soldiers shot at anyone who approached, and they never tried to enter the village. The people were trapped in the dark back streets, along with the killers. They ran to and fro, looking for shelter. Some came here, to the house of a neighbor. This woman says, "They came to me because my house is more secure. We told each other, 'We'll all live together, or we'll die together.'" It's the testimony of this man who doesn't want his name to be used, which gives us the clearest indication of not just what happened but why it happened. He led us through his house, which was looted and burned in the attack. And he told us how he was injured as he fled with his family.
MAN: (speaking through interpreter) I was holding my handicapped child in my arms. I was running with my baby and trying to shelter us both from the bullets, but I met the terrorist in front of me and one tried to strike me with a hatchet, so I blocked it with this arm. I was injured. I fell down and dropped the baby. They took the baby by the leg and threw it against the wall. They smashed its head.
SAIRA SHAH: He told us that his village had a history of close contact with local Islamic militants. The villagers here had helped them in the past but in the sector where the attack occurred, they'd recently stopped.
MAN: (speaking through interpreter) They used to come to the families in the village. And they would help them; they gave them food and money. But now no families give help, so they do this to us, and take what they can by force.
SAIRA SHAH: Armed guards accompanied us to the village. We filmed them secretly. But questions still remain about why on the night of the massacre didn't leave the main road and rescue the villagers. The killers were able to enter this village seen off the road behind me and two other roads. They howled like jackals and wolves made a lot of noise and all the villagers around heard exactly what was going on. But although this village is also ringed by barracks and garrisons in almost every direction, they were allowed to carry on for nearly four hours uninterrupted, where finally the killers escaped. I put those very points to the prime minister.
SAIRA SHAH: This village is surrounded by army garrisons. There were three and a half hours in which somebody could have intervened. Why did the army not intervene?
AHMED OUYAHIA, Prime Minister, Algeria: Do we fight other people that will tell you this government is not doing anything? You will find people who will tell you that the army was there just looking and the others were killing but you ask me as an Algerian citizen, I'll give you my point of view. As the head of the government I'll tell you that I reject such allegation and I say and insist on the fact that the army, the national guard intervened, intervened as quickly as it was possible.
SAIRA SHAH: Bizarrely he appeared to suggest that the villagers played a part in their own deaths by not reporting the massacre in advance.
AHMED OUYAHIA: Why--a whole day those women were first putting bumps around the village--people were seeing that situation--and they did not alert the security force.
SAIRA SHAH: Since the Islamic FIS party won elections in 1991, which were then annulled by the government on orders from the military, the two sides have waged a bitter arms struggle that has often descended into terror. But over the years both sides have become factionalized, ideologies fractured. Accountability is nil and civilians have been drawn into the fray. In Rais, there are few jobs. These local youths are unemployed. Others have found employment in the ranks of militant groups splintered from any Islamic political control. They're little more than armed groups.
MAN: (speaking through interpreter) Because there is high unemployment young people have no jobs so the terrorists find it easy to recruit them.
SAIRA SHAH: Since the massacre the villagers have been given weapons with which to defend themselves but only on condition they form a government-supervised local defense unit known as Patriots to counter the militants. Nobody here was willing to openly criticize their new defenders but there was some bitterness. Our witness refused to say whether they were useful. When pressed, he said he didn't believe in anything, the army, the Patriots, nothing. We left Rais, as we had come, in a military convoy. We'd heard testimony that the military, which here means the states, failed to help people who are being systematically slaughtered over a period of hours. A reliable tally of death has never been made. The government says a hundred people died. The villagers say the figure is three times higher. Algeria's graveyards are packed with the victims of massacres that have happened almost every week over the past few months here. If they're still shrouded in mystery, that's because the government has blocked all attempts at independent investigation.