France confirmed on Friday the death of a French citizen and “the imprisonment of another compatriot in Algeria in an incident involving several of our nationals”, while Moroccan media claimed on Thursday that two French-Moroccan holidaymakers had been killed by Algerian coastguards.
The French Foreign Ministry, for its part, referred to the death of a single national, but did not specify the circumstances of his death.
“The crisis and support center of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and our embassies in Morocco and Algeria are in close contact with the families of our fellow citizens, to whom we offer our full support,” it said in a statement.
“We are in contact with the Moroccan and Algerian authorities. The public prosecutor’s office has been notified”, a spokeswoman for the ministry added.
Moroccan media, quoting a witness to the tragedy, had reported on Thursday evening that two French-Moroccan holidaymakers had been killed by Algerian coastguards when they strayed on jet-skis into an Algerian maritime zone on the border with Morocco.
According to the Le360 news site, Bilal Kissi and Abdelali Mechouer were killed on Tuesday evening near the Moroccan coastal town of Saïdia (north-east of the country).
The Quai d’Orsay did not specify the identity of the deceased.
Saïdia is a popular summer resort, known for its long beaches and water sports.
A third man, Smaïl Snabé, also French-Moroccan, was arrested by the Algerian coastguard and brought before an Algerian prosecutor on Wednesday, according to Le360, citing “corroborating sources”.
This tragedy comes against a backdrop of tensions between Algeria and Morocco, exacerbated by their antagonism over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
For the time being, neither Rabat nor Algiers have reacted publicly to the situation.
Their borders have been closed since 1994, and Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in August 2021, accusing Rabat of “hostile acts”, a decision Rabat considers “completely unjustified”.
Israel’s recent recognition of “Moroccan sovereignty” over the disputed territory of Western Sahara has further heightened tensions with Algiers, which has denounced “foreign maneuvers” on its doorstep.
The four young men — three Franco-Moroccans and one Moroccan — were each on a jet-ski, according to one witness.
“We got lost but we kept going until we found ourselves in Algeria. We knew we were in Algeria because a black Algerian zodiac came towards us, it started zigzagging as if they wanted to run us over,” Mohamed Kissi, Bilal’s older brother, told the Moroccan website Al Omk.
He said he was picked up by the Moroccan navy, who took him back to Saïdia marina.
“They (the occupants of the zodiac) fired at us. Thank God I wasn’t hit, but they killed my brother and my friend. They arrested my other friend,” he also testified.
“We got lost and ran out of petrol”, he explained.
Questioned by the local press on Thursday, Moroccan government spokesman Mustapha Baïtas made no comment, saying only that it was “a matter for the judiciary”.
No immediate confirmation could be obtained from the Algerian side.