Secrecy is what comes to mind when thinking of Algerian politics. This includes the Algerian war of independence, the Algerian diplomacy, the Algerian army (and secret services) and the Algerian regime’s internal conflicts.
Messaoud Zeggar a.k.a. Rachid Casa or Mister Harry (born 1926 – died 1987) had a share into all these aspects, and his life is therefore shadowy and full of rumours. The below text (compiled from Algerian newspapers and several other sites) is but one version among many others. Perhaps are we going to know more in the future (do not rely on WikiLeaks though).Before the war started, Zeggar was a member of the PPA and led his own businesses in Oran which helped him build an interesting network there especially within the port. Hadj Benalla (died last year) knew him since 1948 and recruited him (into the ALN) in 1956. Benalla declared that, knowing Zeggar’s abilities, he sent him to Morocco in order to launch and manage the Algerian military industry.
Soon, and under Abdelhafid Boussouf‘s command, he used his old network to buy the weapons left in Algeria/Morocco by the American soldiers after WWII. He also built new networks in the Moroccan and Spanish milieu which allowed him to smuggle more weapons into Algeria and to launch some weapons’ manufactures in the Moroccan Rif. Apparently even the Moroccan authorities weren’t aware of the existence of a majority of these plants.
Zeggar relied a lot on his people (from El Eulma) to run these plants because they were the only men he trusted. His second activity (communication and intelligence) added to his secrecy worries. Boussouf apparently admitted that 90% of the Algerian communication instruments was acquired by Zeggar, and part of this material had been modified and used to transmit “Voice of Algeria” radio programs.
Starting from 1957, he became Boussouf’s right arm and extended his network to reach the UK and the USA. He had contacts with many important men such as the Kennedy family (remember Kennedy was the first American to mention Algeria’s war in the American congress) and Nelson Rockfeller.
His prowesses in the intelligence field include the fake letter (signed de Gaulle) he wrote and sent through a French colonel working in the Elysée to Djamel Abdennasser. This letter asked the Egyptian president to stop helping the Algerians (the French mistakenly thought that most of the weapons and money came from him; now we know that things were quite different) in exchange for French financial aids. Apparently Nasser had accepted in another letter which reached Boussouf.
Another prowess would be when he succeeded in installing listening devices in the French president’s office; it is said that he had gathered information very useful to the Algerians during the Evian negotiations. And his services could abort many DST plans to assassinate Algerian leaders.
After the Algerian independence, Zeggar followed Boussouf’s steps and left the Algerian politics. His network helped him become a successful businessman (arms dealer among other things). But he never stopped working for Algeria. In fact, he was a very close friend of Boumediene (it is alleged that he saved the Algerian president’s life during the war after Boussouf had decided to kill him) and he became Boumediene’s man for Algeria’s parallel diplomacy. Bouteflika, then foreign affairs minister, therefore wasn’t comfortable with Zeggar as he didn’t even know what he was doing (Zeggar reported directly and only to Boumediene).
This parallel diplomacy was mainly active with the USA following the Algeria/USA official ties suspension (for 8 years) after 1967. Everything then took place behind the scenes and was controlled by Zeggar and another famous Algerian diplomat, Cherif Guellal (then Algerian ambassador in the USA). BTW, Bouteflika didn’t like Guellal (died last year) either and fired him at some point; but Youcef Yousfi appointed him as Sonatrach‘s representative in the USA allowing him to continue doing his job in the USA.
So back to Zeggar. He had many “friends” in the USA and this included Richard Nixon, William Casey (former CIA director) and the Bush family (apparently Georges Bush Sr. travelled on Zeggar’s private jets during his campaigns). And using these “friendships”, he could achieve a number of things for Algeria and I guess for himself too. He first convinced Nixon to meet with Boumediene in 1974. He also arranged for the American astronaut Frank Borman‘s visit to Algiers.
Another achievement was his role after the hydrocarbons nationalisation. He convinced the Americans to stay neutral (and not side with France), and he even arranged with them to help build the Arzew refinery. People such as Hocine Malti allege that Zeggar took a lot of bribes on this project, and this would then be the first financial scandal in Sonatrach.
But the biggest of Zeggar’s achievements remains his intervention to convince the Americans to not attack Algiers during the 1967 war (the American fleet was not very far from Cherchell).
After Boumediene’s death, the new powerful men started their “de-boumedienisation” process, and like Bouteflika, Zeggar was one of this process’s victims. With Chadli in office, men such as Larbi Belkheir and his friends became even more powerful, and they decided (people say they were ordered to by their French masters) to dismiss Zeggar. So in the early 1980s, Zeggar was accused of corruption and of being a CIA agent. He spent some months in jail then the charges were dropped and he was released. A number of men, including Kasdi Merbah and Slimane Hoffman, witnessed in his favour.
Some people say that the purpose of this accusation was not only to please France but also to distribute Zeggar’s businesses to the new powerful men and their friends. We still don’t know whether some of Zeggar’s assets and bank accounts were really confiscated or not.
Later on Zeggar was given back his passport and was allowed to leave the country. He died in one of his hotels in Spain of a heart attack but many say he was assassinated.
22 November 2015 Update:
Echourouk News channel made a long documentary on Zeggar’s life. It is available on Youtube in four parts: