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Abdel Salem Al Khattabi

Son of Riffian president died under suspicious circumstances

Mohamed Mmis n Abdelkrim with his family on the island of La Réunion

By: Editorial Amazigh Information Center

The Riffian resistance leader and politician Mohamed Mmis n Abdelkrim Al Khattabi (1880-1963), better known to the Riffians as Muhand U Abdelkrim, led the resistance of the people of the Rif against the Spanish government after the First World War. In May 1926 he surrendered to the French. He and his family were exiled to Réunion, a French island east of Madagascar. In 1947, on condition that he would settle in France, he was released. During the transport to France, however, he ‘escaped’ in Port Said and King Farouk offered him asylum in Egypt. There he was put in charge of the Liberation Committee of the Maghreb (northwestern part of Africa).

The occupiers seized part of their possessions, such as agricultural land in the Rif. After the tactical withdrawal of France and Spain in1956, Muhand stated that he would not return to Morocco as long as parts of North Africa and in particular the Rif were still colonised. And this situation still exists today, given the fact that two Rif cities and dozens of islands are still under Spanish administration.

Safiya Al Hassani Al Jazairi, granddaughter of the Algerian freedom fighter Abd Al-Kader Jazairi (1808-1883) who was both married to a cousin of Muhand, Rachid Al Khattabi, and after his death with his son Idris Al Khattabi (1925) told during a series of interviews with the Moroccan daily Al Massae in 2015, how the family perished after being banished from the Rif. When she married Rachid, she first mastered the Rif language, because this language was spoken consistently at home.

King Mohammed V (1909 – 1961) still provided the Muhand family with an allowance, his son King Hassan II, however, set conditions for further payment of this allowance. The family had to return to Morocco, but were not allowed to settle in the Rif. Part of the family returned and some of them died under suspicious circumstances, according to Safiya.

Screenshot of an interview of Al Massae with Safiya Al Hassani

Her first husband was the Riffian diplomat Rachid Al Khattabi, he was ambassador for Morocco in Syria. Despite the fact that Rachid Al Khattabi worked for the Moroccan regime, he remained loyal to the Rif and resisted power. He missed a promotion because he refused to kiss King Mohamed V’s hand. And during the revolt of the Rif in1958 and1959 against the Moroccan dictatorship and abuse of power in the Rif, he maintained the contacts between Muhand who stayed in Egypt and the protesting Riffians. He asked his wife to write down the demands for the Rif demonstrators because, according to him, she had such a beautiful handwriting. According to the newspaper Al Massae, Safiya could not tell how these demands ended up with the demonstrators.

Muhand with his son Idris

After the death of Rachid Al Khattabi in 1969, Safiya married Idris Al Khattabi (1925), son of Abdelkrim Al Khattabi. He attended higher education in Germany where he studied German literature. Idris Al Khattabi lived in Rabat and worked for the bus company Al Sadraoui in Casablanca.

King Hassan II tried to get him and other family members of Muhand at his side by promising them ‘privileges’. In the 1970s, for example, he offered Idris Al Khattabi a ministerial post and made a house available to him. This offer was rejected by Idris.

This uncompromising attitude of the Al Khattabi family caused them to collide with the royal family and its lackeys. Thus, Idris demanded the family’s property, which had been confiscated during the Spanish occupation, back. For this purpose he made several visits to the Rif. However, there he was confronted with an encirclement by the army of the then headquarters of the Rif government in the capital Ajdir, this was also the case with the house of Muhand. Everything that reminds us of the resistance of Muhand and the Riffian people is closely watched by the Moroccan police and army.

Moroccan politician Mehdi Barka (R) talking with son of Riff leader Cap. Abdel Salem Abdel Krim (L). (Photo by Pierre Boulat/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

But what, according to Safiya Al Hassani Al Jazairi, made Muhand the most angry is that his cousin Al Hatimi and six others were buried alive in Tangier. Muhand held Medi Ben Barka responsible for his nephew’s death.

This ‘nationalist’ and ‘socialist’ and co-founder of the dominant ‘independence movement’ Istiqlaal initially worked with King Mohammed V. He supported crown prince Hassan II in bringing the still existing resistance fires under control, because in his opinion these also included a posed a threat to the Istiqlaal party that pursued power only in Morocco. For that reason, Ben Barka would have given the order for this murder, Muhand confidants reported to him. Medi Ben Barka himself disappeared without a trace in Paris in 1965. Already before then, Al Hatimi was kidnapped by a group of men who would fall under Medi Ben Barka.

According to Safiya Al Hassani Al Jazairi, Hassan II was afraid of Muhand’s family because he once asked Rachid Al Khattabi if this family intended to make a coup against the Alaouite ruler.

In 1979, Idris Al Khatatabi made a three-day trip through the Rif. He was received by a large crowd in Ayt Bouayach in the Al Hoceima region. For the Riffians, he was a representative of the ideas of his father Muhand U Abdelkrim. Idris was received hospitably by the Riffians and came home happy, according to his wife: “It is one of the few times that I have seen Idris happy and cheerful like that, like a little boy who found something he loved”. But he was not only happy, he was also angry, angry at the occupation of the family property by soldiers, none of whom came from the Rif. His only dream was to find a free Rif without being able to visit an occupying force and his family property undisturbed. The Rif, in particular the Al Hoceima region, has been a military area by decree from 1958 to the present day.

At the end of this visit to the Rif, Moroccan officials informed Idris’ wife by a short message that her husband had died in a traffic accident on the road between Casablanca and Rabat, in the city of Bouznika. She says: “We were told that Idris had a twisted head in the car seat and that another passenger had survived” the accident “. His car is said to have hit another car, the owner of which was currently replacing a wheel. The coffin with his remains was already closed, so Idris Al Khattabi’s family and loved ones could not say goodbye to him.

Safiya Al Hassani Al Jazairi “My husband’s death was not normal. I find the “official” story about his death incredible. Our phone was being tapped before my husband died. But as far as I know Idris never came into contact with the police and was questioned by them ”.

Moroccan politician Mehdi Barka (L) talking with son of Riff leader Cap. Abdel Salem Abdel Krim (R). (Photo by Pierre Boulat/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Idris is not the only son of Muhand who died under suspicious circumstances. Another of Muhand’s son, Abdesalam Al Khattabi, was an officer in the Moroccan Army (FAR). During an armed conflict between Morocco and Algeria, the so-called Sand War, Abdesalam Al Khattabi refused to participate in this armed conflict in 1963. He proposed that Morocco and Algeria should resolve the border problems of the colonial era peacefully and made himself available as a mediator. Hassan II immediately fired him from the army and informed the Muhand family that he could not understand the decision of Abdesalam.

Abdesalam, who was perfectly healthy according to Safiya Al Hassani Al Jazairi, suddenly experienced severe abdominal pain in the 1980s and died within a week.

Translated: Najat M.


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