Algeria arrests 22 suspected arsonists over deadly blazes

Algeria has arrested 22 people suspected of being involved in the country’s deadly wildfires that killed at least 69 people, the country’s president Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said.

Dozen of forest fires have hit mountainous areas in northern Algeria since Monday, mainly in Tizi Ouzou of the Kabylie region east of the capital, Algiers.

At least 41 civilians have been killed in the fires, as well as 28 military men who were deployed to help firefighters struggling to contain the blazes that destroyed homes and forests.

On Thursday, flags were flown at half-mast as Mr Tebboune declared three days of national mourning. In a live televised speech, he said: “Some fires have been caused by high temperatures but criminal hands were behind most of them.

“We have arrested 22 suspects, including 11 in Tizi Ouzou,” he said, adding: “Justice will perform its duty.”

“It’s a disaster… disaster. But our strength will not collapse,” Mr Tebboune said, praising aid caravans from other provinces to provide affected regions with food, medicine and donations of other material.

He added: “We must preserve national unity… I insist on national unity.”

Algerian authorities have been battling for days to tackle fires that have since spread to several other provinces, with help from neighbouring Morocco and the EU.

“The government did send out several different helicopters to fight these fires but these helicopters are only equipped with bambi buckets which have a capacity of a thousand liters,” Maher Mezahi, a journalist in Tizi Ouzou, told Al Jazeera.

“They’ve called on the European Union to send over some firefighting aircrafts. France sent over two yesterday and those have a capacity of six to seven thousand liters and they’ve been a lot more effective in fighting these fires that are in very difficult places.”

One villager from Tizi Ouzou district told AFP: “I have nothing left. My workshop, my car, my flat. Even the tiles were destroyed.” But he said he had “managed to save his family”, adding that “neighbours died or lost their relatives”.

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