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Archive for Thursday, April 12, 2007

Al-Qaida bombs kill at least 24 in Algeria

April 12, 2007

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— Al-Qaida's new wing in North Africa claimed responsibility for suicide bombings that ripped through the prime minister's office and a police station in Algeria on Wednesday, killing at least 24 people. The attacks highlighted the menacing spread of Islamic militancy across North Africa.

Police look for evidence in a car that exploded next to a police station, seen in background in Algiers, Algeria. Bombs ripped through the Algerian prime minister's office and a police station, coordinated terror attacks that authorities said killed at least 24 people and wounded more than 200 others.

Police look for evidence in a car that exploded next to a police station, seen in background in Algiers, Algeria. Bombs ripped through the Algerian prime minister's office and a police station, coordinated terror attacks that authorities said killed at least 24 people and wounded more than 200 others.

One car bombing tore holes in the walls of the prime minister's office, where people in bloodstained clothes stumbled toward ambulances. Two other vehicles exploded outside a police station east of the capital, blasting craters into the ground and damaging the building. Some 222 people were wounded.

The group that claimed responsibility, al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, has carried out a series of recent bombings jeopardizing Algeria's tentative peace. The country, a staunch U.S. ally in the war against terror, has been trying to turn the page on a 15-year Islamic insurgency that killed 200,000 people.

Until recently, the peace efforts seemed successful: Military crackdowns and amnesty offers had turned Algeria's militants into a ragtag assembly of fighters in rural hideouts.

But late last year, the main Algerian militant group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, changed its name to al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa and began targeting foreigners - signs that the Islamic fighters were regrouping.

Wednesday's date, April 11, has potentially symbolic meaning: Attacks on the 11th day of the month are a hallmark of al-Qaida and its admirers.

The bombing of the prime minister's office was among the most brazen attacks in Algerian history. Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, who was not in his office during the attack, called the bombings a "cowardly, criminal terrorist act" as he spoke to reporters outside the wrecked building. Parts of six floors were ripped away, and the iron gates outside were bent by the blast's force.

Fayza Kebdi, a lawyer who works opposite the government building in Algiers, said the explosion shattered her windows and blew her husband across the room.

"We thought the years of terrorism were over," she said. "We thought that everything was back to normal. But now, the fear is coming back."

The bombers had three targets, the caller said: The prime minister's office, the Interpol offices and a special police forces building in the eastern suburb of Bab Ezzouar. An Interpol spokeswoman, however, said the international police organization has no office in that suburb, about 10 miles away from the prime minister's office.

Two police officers in Bab Ezzouar said separate suicide bombers struck there.

The bombings came one day after three suspected terrorists in neighboring Morocco blew themselves up as police were closing in, and a fourth was shot and killed by police while he appeared to be preparing to detonate his explosives.

In Morocco, Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa said Moroccan investigators have not established links between the violence there and in Algeria but "we don't rule it out."

Experts and intelligence officials are concerned that militants could extend their attacks across the Mediterranean to Europe. The problems in Iraq, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, are fueling North Africa's Islamist movement, said Louis Caprioli, former assistant director of France's DST counterterrorism and counterintelligence agency.

Those issues are "mobilizing people and legitimizing their combat," he said.

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