Since 2011, one topic has consistently dominated headlines in the news: The war in Syria has now been going for over half a decade and is widely recognized as one of the most shameful and bloody civil conflicts in recent history.
Yet, as horrible as it is, Syria is not unique. Since humans first devised nation states, we’ve engaged in civil wars marked by their utter brutality. When it comes to post–World War II history, few civil conflicts have come close to the inhumanity of the following.
10. The Algerian Civil War 1991–2002
At rush hour on July 25, 1995, a bomb exploded on the Paris subway, killing eight people and injuring 150. Prior to the Charlie Hebdo and ISIS attacks, it was one of the worst terrorist incidents that the French capital had seen. But the perpetrators weren’t dissatisfied French or European nationals; they were Algerian agents. The bombing was simply the spillover from one of North Africa’s deadliest civil wars.
Like the current conflict in Syria, the war started when a government refused to step down. In this case, the military canceled an election when it began to look like an Islamist party would win. The preemptive coup sent protestors out onto the streets, and the situation soon morphed into a deadly battle between government forces and out-of-control jihadists. In a chilling echo of ISIS in Syria, the Islamists first targeted Algerian civilians, and then French civilians, living in Paris using improvised bombs. At the hands of the fanatics, teachers, artists, journalists, and judges were disappeared. Even now, nearly 15 years later, 8,000 innocent people are still missing.
On the other side of the coin, Algeria’s army was equally bad. Just as Assad drops barrel bombs on his own people, the Algerian authorities burned down entire villages looking for terrorists (who had frequently fled weeks beforehand). At the height of the “black decade,” both sides were committing war crimes, including the murder of newborn babies. By the time the dust settled in 2002, 200,000 civilians were dead. For comparison, the infamous Sri Lankan civil war against the Tamil Tigers killed about half that many in more than double the time.