It was the holy month of Ramadan.
Sources differ on which fundamentalist Islamic group bombed the packed mosque and shot those who fled the burning structure. Some said it was the AIS (Islamic Salvation Army). Most thought it was the GIA (Armed Islamic Group). Apparently the message that needed to be sent was important enough to slaughter hundreds of people, but not important enough to actually write down and send to a newspaper.
The December 30th 1997-January 29th 1998 Ramadan was especially bloody. When the Muslims gathered to break their fast on the first night of Ramadan, 6:15 pm on December 30th 1997, a coordinated attack occurred in the small northern Algerian province of Relizane. Fundamentalists armed with knives and axes stormed several farming villages. Everything that moved was killed. When the number of potential victims dwindled the corpses were mutilated. The attackers left at Dawn. Probably to fast before that evenings Iftar.
There was another large massacre on the night of January 4th 1998, and another large one following the Sidi-Hamed massacre on March 26th in Oued Bouaicha. There were over 25 large massacres conducted by Algerian radical Islamics in 1997 and 1998, and no good count of the smaller ones.
Two weeks after the Sidi-Hamed massacre, on January 25th 1998, Jewel would sing the national anthem to start the San Diego hosted Superbowl which would see the 11 point favorite Green Bay Packers loose to the Denver Broncos 24-31
Several days after Superbowl XXXII Cardinal Francis Arinze delivered to the entire Islamic world the official Vatican message in which he said:
“There are numerous Signs Of Hope: the growing solidarity among people in our time, especially with the poor and destitute, the desire for justice and peace, voluntary service, the return of religion, an awareness of human dignity and of the rights which flow from it, attention to the environment, etc.”.