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Algerian man missing for 26 years found captive in neighbour’s cellar

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Police say that man who first went missing in 1998 was held by a 61-year-old neighbour just a few minutes from his home.

An Algerian man who went missing in 1998 during the country’s civil war has been found alive in his neighbour’s cellar 26 years later, according to authorities.

The country’s Ministry of Justice said on Tuesday that the man, identified alternatively as Omar bin Omran or Omar B, disappeared when he was 19 years old and was long ago assumed to have been kidnapped or killed.

But he was found alive earlier this week at the age of 45, after being held captive by a neighbour in a sheepfold hidden by haystacks just 200 metres from his old home in Djelfa, part of northern Algeria.

The ministry said that an investigation into the “heinous” crime was ongoing and that the victim is receiving medical and psychological care.

Police detained the alleged captor, a 61-year-old doorman, after he attempted to flee. The kidnapping was discovered after the suspect’s brother posted revealing information on social media, amid an alleged inheritance dispute between the siblings.

“On 12 May at 8pm local time, [they] found victim Omar bin Omran, aged 45, in the cellar of his neighbour, BA, aged 61,” a court official said.

The victim’s mother died in 2013, when the family still believed he was likely dead. Media outlets in Algeria reported that bin Omran told his rescuers he could sometimes see his family from afar, but that he felt incapable of calling out because of a “spell” his captor cast upon him.

Bin Omran’s discovery on Sunday solves a mystery that had lingered in his community since Algeria’s bloody civil war. Relatives of war victims are still seeking justice for their missing and dead loved ones.

About 200,000 people were killed in the 1990s during the war, which pitted the government against Islamist fighters. That period is sometimes referred to as Algeria’s “Black Decade”.

As many as 20,000 people were believed to have been kidnapped over the course of the war, which ended in 2002. According to SOS Disparus, an Algerian association for those forcibly disappeared during the war, about 8,000 Algerians disappeared between 1992 and 1998 alone.

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