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Algerian prosecutors charge eight people over man held captive from 1998

Algerian authorities have charged eight people in the case of Omar bin Omran, who was abducted as a teenager more than 25 years ago and discovered this week in a cellar only a few hundred metres from his family home.

According to a statement from Algeria’s Judicial Council, six of the suspects have been detained and two others placed under judicial supervision, meaning they can remain free while facing trial.

“A judicial investigation has been opened against the main suspect for the crime of kidnapping and luring a person, detaining a person without an order from the competent authorities and outside the cases permitted by the law, as well as human trafficking of a victim in a status of vulnerability,” the council said.

The secondary suspects in the case were charged with abetting a crime by concealing the place where Mr bin Omran was held captive and not informing authorities.

Mr bin Omran, from the town of El Guedid in Djelfa governorate in northern Algeria, was 16 when he went missing. His family searched for him for years across the country, a relative told The National, before they eventually lost hope and assumed he had fallen victim to the political violence of the time.

“Omar disappeared in 1998 in very mysterious circumstances and in a period when Algeria was going through a difficult security situation,” his cousin Khaled Rgueb said.

“All of his relatives kept looking for him for years and searched every potential place where he could be from the north to the south of the country.

“They even attended television shows to appeal to people who might have seen him, but they eventually gave up and assumed he was dead and buried at an unknown location.”

Omar Bin Omran as a teenager, pictured with his dog. Photo: Djelfa Judicial Council
Omar Bin Omran as a teenager, pictured with his dog. Photo: Djelfa Judicial Council

Algeria was torn by an armed conflict between the government and several Islamist militant groups between 1992 and 2002, commonly referred to as the “Black Decade”. Almost 200,000 people were killed, and about 15,000 went missing.

All hopes of finding Mr bin Omar had long faded when the sister of neighbour, who was reportedly going through an inheritance dispute with her brother, hinted at his whereabouts in a social media post.

Local police took out a search warrant and raided the neighbour’s house the next day.

“They found him in a stable, where the suspect keeps his sheep, [the cellar trapdoor] covered in hay, and he was thankfully saved,” Mr Rgueb said.

A video circulating on social media shows Mr bin Omar with a long beard, shivering, and with a blank look on his face as he is discovered in a small cellar concealed under bales of hay.

Mr Rgueb said his cousin had appeared to be “in good shape” when he saw him at the local hospital where authorities sent him for treatment.

“He is currently getting help and has been receiving medical care, both physical and psychological,” he said.

“He was able to speak to me and recognise me, his situation is not critical or bad. He is in good shape but he is currently receiving help to reintegrate into society and overcome what he went through.”

Mr bin Omran reportedly told family members that he used to see them passing from the stable window and learn of all their news, even his mother’s death in 2007, but was unable to call for help because he was “under some sort of black magic spell” cast by his alleged abductor.

Earlier it was reported that the 61-year-old owner of the house where Mr bin Omran was found has been detained by police. Officials said the “perpetrator of this heinous crime” will be punished severely.

The detained man was also reportedly accused of poisoning Mr bin Omran’s dog, which had pined around the suspect’s house for a month after the teenager vanished.

Source: MENA