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Algeria: Man wrongly accused of starting wildfires killed by mob

Authorities in Algeria have detained a total of 36 individuals after a mob killed and burned a man who was mistakenly accused of starting wildfires in the country.

A 38-year-old artist, known as Djamel Ben Ismail, was killed by a group of people on Wednesday, after it was wrongly suspected that he had started several wildfires in the Kabyle region of Algeria.

The fires started in the mountainous Berber region of the country. A total of 47 civilians and 28 soldiers have died in the blaze, with olive groves and livestock destroyed.

Mr Ben Ismail had actually travelled to the area to help, when he was wrongly accused of having started several of the fires and swarmed by a mob, the head of the judicial police said on Sunday.

The artist had written on Twitter prior to the attack that he was going to travel 200 miles to help fight fires.

The 38-year-old was being protected in a police station when the mob got hold of him, dragging him out of the building and attacking him in Larbaa Nath Irathen, a town ravaged by flames in the Tizi-Ouzou province.

According to a statement issued by a local prosecutor and carried by APS, the mob “dragged [Mr Ben Ismail] outside, beating and burning him, which led to his death.”

“Police officers who intervened to protect and help the victim have also been injured,” the statement revealed.

Judicial police officer, Mohamed Chagor, explained that the crowd was in a “collective hysteria” when it attacked Mr Ben Ismail.

Mr Chagor said that police officers had decided against firing warning shots at the mob for fear that this would make the situation worse.

Arrests were made using photos and footage of the incident which police used to identify attackers. Among those arrested were one man and three women who were seen attacking the victim’s body with a knife before he was burned.

Mr Ben Ismail was buried in his hometown of Khemis Miliana, located to the west of the Kabyle capital of Tizi-Ouzou.

Meanwhile, human rights organisation Amnesty International called on Algerian authorities to investigate the death, to “send a clear message that this violence won’t go unpunished.”

According to Civil Protection official Colonel Farouk Achour, the majority of wildfires “no longer represent a danger for residents,” reported the APS news agency.

He explained that over 74 of the fires had been put out in the last 24 hours.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced that authorities suspect the blazes have criminal origins, even though a heatwave across North Africa “is part of it”.

Overall, at least 22 people have been arrested on suspicion of arson, say officials.

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