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Identifying Air Algerie crash victims ‘could take years’

Algeria's Chief of Police and head of national security Abdelkader Kara Bouhadba speaks during a press conference in the capital Algiers on July 31, 2014, in which he announced that none of the bodies have been identified from the Air Algerie plane that disintegrated over the northern Mali desert last week. AFP PHOTO /FAROUK BATICHE

BEIRUT: The director of the Algerian judicial police said Thursday that the process of identifying the victims of the ill-fated Air Algerie passenger plane that crashed in Mali last week could take years.

“It is too early to talk about identification. It is a complex process that could take several weeks or months or even years,” Abdelkader Kara Bouhadba said at a news conference. “The important thing is to find the truth.”

Bouhadba stressed that the process was “a humanitarian priority.”

He said it had not been possible to analyze several samples collected at the crash site because conditions there were “inhospitable” for forensic work and conserving bodies.

Forensic experts have resorted to using DNA samples to identify the dead, mostly because of the state the bodies were found in. The extreme heat at the crash site has further complicated their work.

But Ali Feragui, deputy head of the forensic police, said “all the passengers on board the aircraft will be identified [thanks to] the techniques and experience of the different experts.”

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Lebanon was working hard to follow up on the crash, which killed all 19 Lebanese citizens on board, and was in contact with the relevant foreign ministries.

“We have placed all of Lebanon’s diplomatic capabilities at our disposal so we can take advantage of our relations with the concerned states and be continuously up to date with what is happening on the ground, from the search efforts to the investigation,” Bassil told a group of victims’ relatives at his office.

“We have not yet faced any procedural obstacles but the fact of the matter is that the accident was itself very difficult, and the way the plane crashed ... and the altitude at which it happened makes looking for the remains difficult,” he said.

Some 54 French nationals were also among the 118 on board the Algiers-bound plane, which took off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and crashed less than an hour later. France has revealed that preliminary investigations showed the pilots asked to change route due to bad weather conditions.

Lebanon dispatched a delegation to the crash site to help rescue teams search for the remains of the Lebanese passengers.

Their bodies will be sent to France for DNA testing.

“I wanted to meet with relatives of the victims ... first to offer condolences in the name of the Lebanese state over the tragedy that struck Lebanon,” Bassil said.

“Second, to inform the relatives about the case’s latest developments and give them a full picture, with total transparency, about everything we know today, as the right to know is a sacred right,” he said, promising that the ministry would relay any information it received to the public.

He added that it was the Lebanese government’s duty to announce a day of mourning and to secure the return of the victims’ remains.

“I hope we can organize a single reception for all of the victims’ remains, if the relatives accept,” Bassil said.

Lebanese citizens in Africa are not properly taken care of and watched over, he added, saying the government needed to examine why so many people were emigrating, something he attributed to poor living conditions.

He also touched on the need for direct flight routes to and from Africa. Establishing a new airline route was not a recent idea and is currently being discussed, he said, but Lebanon also has other priorities at the moment.

“This accident is not linked to whether there is a direct flight route or not, but man stands in the face of each accident and is saddened and looks to the future,” Bassil explained.

He said he hoped “not only to study such matters but to learn from them and take necessary action.”

Abbas Dheini, brother of passenger Bilal Dheini, who perished along with his wife and three children in the crash, said the Lebanese government needed to establish a “crisis cell” to handle such incidents when they occur so as to avoid misinformation.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 01, 2014, on page 4.

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