Algeria Mourns Death of First President Ahmed Ben Bella, a Charismatic Independence Hero

The first president of independent AlgeriaAhmed Ben Bella, died Wednesday in Algiers at the age of 95, state news agency APS reported, citing members of his inner circle. Ben Bella, who had just been released from a hospital stay for respiratory troubles, died at his family home in the capital, APS said.

A statement from the president's office said the deceased will be buried after Friday's mid-day prayer in Al-Alia grave in the east of the capital city Algiers.

Ahmed Ben Bella is one of the great figures of Arab nationalism. He was one of the nine members of the Committee of Algerian Revolutionaries that gave birth to the National Liberation Front (NLF).

Ben Bella was born in Marnia, Algeria, in 1916. At the time Algeria was a French colony with over 1 million French settlers and a government which discriminated against the country's indigenous Muslim population.

Ben Bella spent 23 years of his life in French and Algerian prisons. Arrested by the French occupiers in 1952, he managed to escape. Once again arrested in 1956, along with seven colleagues, he was detained in the la Santé prison until 1962. He became involved in nationalist politics as a schoolboy, joining the Algerian People’s Party of Messali Hadj.

“I entered politics at 15,” he said in a 2001 interview with an Egyptian newspaper. “I was thrown in at the deep end.”

He joined a colonial unit of the French army and served in World War II.

He was decorated for shooting down a German plane over the French port of Marseille, and for his service in the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944.

A hero of Algeria’s independence from France and one of the 20th century’s most vocal anti-imperialists, he brought his country into the UN and engaged in the movement of non-aligned countries. Ben Bella was president from 1963 to 1965, when he was overthrown by his defense minister, Houari Boumediene, and was kept under house arrest until 1979. He spent years in jail and exile before returning to Algeria in 1990.