The famed Algerian resistance fighter Saadi Yacef, who fought for his country's independence from French colonialism, died on 10 September; he was 93. When FLN leader and speaker of the Council of the Nation, Salah Goudjil, announced his death, he proclaimed Yacef to be "one of the luminaries" of the Algerian revolution.
Yacef was born on 20 January 1928 in the Casbah district of the capital Algiers to ethnic Berber parents. He joined the leftist Algerian People's Party at the age of 17 while working as an apprentice baker.
When he was 21, he travelled to France and witnessed at first-hand the common racism against Arabs, an experience which influenced him even more towards the revolutionary path. The young Yacef then returned to Algeria, quit his job, and joined the National Liberation Front (FLN). It was not long before he was appointed as the military chief of Algiers.
In that position he led fighters in many battles, including the famed battle in the Casbah in 1956/57. He was thus an instrumental figure in the Algerian independence movement and the bloody eight-year-long war that ended 132 years of occupation by France. Around 1.5 million Algerians and 25,000 French citizens were killed during the war of independence.
Yacef and the FLN were not without their controversies, however, as they are reported to have committed numerous attacks against French civilians. The bombings of places such as the Air France office in Rue Mauritania, the Rue Michelet café, and the Rue d'Isly milk bar in September 1956 – and the consequent civilian deaths – led to the French occupation labelling the FLN as "terrorists".
The FLN pointed out consistently that its actions were in retaliation for French war crimes, which included forced disappearances, torture and the killing of Algerian resistance fighters and civilians. French colonialist settlers also reportedly participated in the atrocities, and carried out bombings such as the one on Rue de Thebes in August 1956.
Yacef addressed the controversies in a 2007 interview. He asserted that the FLN's tactics were "part of a whole strategy that included mass participation. It was specifically targeted at occupiers, not just anybody… We killed women, yes, and took foetuses out of their wombs." He stressed, however, that "ours was for liberation. This was our only means against a cruel enemy."
The French occupation authorities captured Yacef in 1957 and sentenced him to death. That sentence was quashed when the French government led by Charles de Gaulle came to power and pardoned him. This led some to accuse Yacef of collaborating with the French authorities in prison, an allegation that he denied.
Following Algeria's independence in 1962, Yacef became a senator in the Council of the Nation and held that position until his death.