25.02.2024

Tourists shot dead after straying from Morocco to Algeria while jet skiing

Two tourists were shot dead after they strayed across the maritime border between Algeria and Morocco while jet skiing, according to local media reports.

Algeria and Morocco had closed off their borders in 1994 and do not share good diplomatic relations as they are embroiled in a border dispute.

The French-Moroccan dual nationals, identified as Bilal Kissi and Abdelali Merchouer, were shot dead by the Algerian coastguard on Tuesday while they were riding jet skis, said reports on Thursday.

They were in a group of four tourists who faced Algeria’s coastguard after taking a wrong turn while skiing at the beach resort of Saidia on Morocco’s northeastern tip, a witness said, according to local news website Le360.

One among them, also a French-Moroccan national, was arrested by the Algerian coastguard and was taken to a court on Wednesday, the report said. The man, Smail Snabe, appeared before a prosecutor on the same day.

Officials from the Moroccan government have been questioned about the shooting of the jet skiers. Spokesperson Mustapha Baitas said it was a “matter for the judiciary”.

There was no immediate comment from the Algerian side.

A family member said the four got lost, but kept going until they found themselves in Algeria, reported Moroccan website Al Omk.

They could tell they were in Algeria because a “black Algerian dinghy came towards us” and people on board it “fired at us”, said Mohamed Kissi, the brother of the young man who died.

“Thank God I wasn’t hit but they killed my brother and my friend. They arrested my other friend,” he told the news website.

He said five bullets hit his brother and his friend, and that his third friend was also hit by a bullet.

The man said the group got lost and had run out of fuel. He said he had attempted to swim back to the resort and was later picked up by some officials from the Moroccan navy who took him back to the Saidia Marina.

The north African countries have faced spiking tensions over disputed territory in Western Sahara.

The tensions stem largely over territory annexed by Morocco in 1975. Sahrawis, an ethnic group that inhabits the Western Sahara, from the Algeria-backed Polisario Front have sought independence for the region for decades.

In 2021, Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco, citing hostile actions from its neighbour. The dispute between two important regional players in the Arab world had disrupted planning for a summit last year.

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