Mohammed Larbi Ben M’hidi, a prominent leader of the Algerian war of independence, was tortured to death by the French on 3-4 March 1957. French General Marcel Bigeard, said of Ben M’hidi: “If I had 10 men like him amongst my troops, I would have conquered the world”.
He was tortured and murdered by the French special services, under Major Paul Aussaresses’s orders. His death was announced on March 6, 1957. He is considered to be a national hero in Algeria. He is one of the six founding members of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN; National Liberation Front) that launched an armed revolt throughout French Algeria and issued a proclamation calling for a sovereign Algerian state.
Ben M’hidi initially commanded Wilaya V (the military district in the Oran region) and played an important role at the FLN’s Soummam conference in August 1956. He headed FLN operations during the Battle of Algiers where he was the last member of the FLN’s Comité de Coordination et d’Exécution (CCE; Committee of Coordination and Implementation). Ben M’hidi was a strong believer in that the revolution should be directed by “internal” rather than “external” revolutionaries.
Ben M’hidi was captured by Marcel Bigeard and his men on 23 February 1957 after receiving a tip-off provided by Roger Trinquier’s network of informers. The photograph of his arrest was published the following day in all the newspapers in Algiers. The photograph showed Larbi Ben M’hidi with handcuffs on his wrists and ankles, with a cheerful brave face. Ben M’hidi also appeared in video footage released by the French press, alongside Brahim Chergui, the liaison chief of the Zone Autonome d’Alger (ZAA) who was arrested on the 24 February 1957. Ben M’hidi was seen to be smiling towards the camera, and exchanging words with the armed paratroopers. He was handcuffed and had his feet shackled on the video footage, unlike Brahim Chergui. The video footage was taken in El Biar at then Colonel Bigeard’s command post. His death was announced in March 1957 by Pierre Gorlin, Robert Lacoste’s press officer.
— Quartiers Libres (@QuartiersL) March 3, 2016
Marcel Bigeard personally interrogated Ben M’hidi, and according to him would not allow him to be tortured. After two weeks of questioning, Ben M’hidi showed no sign of backing down, and Bigeard grew to like and respect him. During the interrogation, Ben M’hidi constantly stood up to his interrogators, due to the extensive pressure of the interrogation, insisting that Algeria would be victorious in the battle and that the Algerian people would be liberated. Bigeard was impressed with Larbi Ben M’hidi’s defiance and dignity, even though defeated, he proved that he was in no way of form broken, mentally, physically or spiritually. When told the war was lost he responded by citing the ‘chant des partisans’ of the French Resistance: ‘Another will take my place’.
General Jacques Massu, however, was frustrated with Bigeard’s slow progress, and arranged for Ben M’hidi to be transferred into the custody of Major Paul Aussaresses. According to a report to the CCE on 4 March 1957 made by an FLN spy who had been working in the Algiers police headquarters, Bigeard “was unable to prevent Ben M’hidi being handed over to men of a ‘special section’ of the paratroops. These interrogated him on their own initiative, and killed him last night.”. Under Aussaresses, Ben M’hidi was tortured, and then driven to an isolated farm 18 kilometres south of Algiers, where he was hanged – “to make it look like suicide”.
On 6 March 1957, Pierre Gorlin (Robert Lacoste’s press officer) announced that Ben M’hidi “had committed suicide by hanging himself with strips of material torn from his shirt”. His body was later transferred to Maillot hospital in Algiers. On arrival, two French medical officers stated officially after examining him that he was already dead. General Jacques Massu claimed that Ben M’hidi was “still breathing” on his way to hospital after hanging himself with an electric flex during the night.
The events surrounding his death are disputed, and it is alleged that he was tortured before being summarily executed. Many who knew him, have ruled out the possibility of him taking his own life, as was reported in the media due to his devoutness to his faith. In 2000, General Aussaresses admitted that Ben M’hidi was executed whilst in his custody. The exact truth regarding Ben M’hidi’s death remains a mystery to this day. Ben M’hidi is considered to be a national hero in Algeria, and is considered to be a symbol of the revolution that brought an end to French colonialism.
Effectively started by members of the National Liberation Front (FLN) on November 1, 1954, during the Toussaint Rouge (“Red All Saints’ Day”), the conflict shook the foundations of the weak and unstable Fourth French Republic (1946–58) and led to its replacement by the Fifth Republic with a strengthened Presidency, with Charles de Gaulle acting in the latter role. Although the military campaigns greatly weakened the FLN militarily, with most prominent FLN leaders killed or arrested and terror attacks effectively stopped, the brutality of the methods employed failed to win hearts and minds in Algeria, alienated support in Metropolitan France and discredited French prestige abroad.
— Nabila Ramdani (@NabilaRamdani) March 3, 2016
On the pretext of a slight to their consul, the French invaded Algiers in 1830. Directed by Marshall Bugeaud, who became the first Governor-General of Algeria, the conquest was violent, marked by a “scorched earth” policy designed to reduce the power of the Dey; this included massacres, mass rapes, and other atrocities. In 1834, Algeria became a French military colony and, in 1848, was declared by the constitution of 1848 to be an integral part of France and divided into three French departments (Algiers, Oran and Constantine). After Algeria was divided into departments, many French and other Europeans (Spanish, Italians, Maltese, and others) settled in Algeria.
Algeria was unique to France because, unlike all other overseas possessions acquired by France during the 19th century, only Algeria was considered and legally classified an integral part of France.
Mohamed Larbi Ben M’hidi (1923 – 4 March 1957) Freedom Fighter, Founding Member of FLN, Colonel and FLN Commander in the Battle of Algiers