Cairo, Egypt Two bombs that killed at least 26 people, including five United Nations workers, in the Algerian capital Tuesday were orchestrated by a resurgent al-Qaida-linked group seeking to overthrow North African governments, according to Algerian authorities.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the region's most proficient militant organizations, claimed responsibility for the near-simultaneous attacks - one in front of the Constitutional Council and the second at a U.N. compound. The group reportedly posted pictures of the two rifle-wielding suicide bombers on an Islamist Web site.
The coordinated blasts erupted at a time when international terrorist organizations are readjusting. There's been a general weakening of al-Qaida in the Middle East, while at the same time there's a fear that scores of North African militants who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home armed with tactics and strategies to battle their governments and reach into Europe.
"Al-Qaida is retreating in important spots, namely in Iraq and Saudi Arabia," said Diaa Rashwan, a Cairo-based terrorism expert. "It is left with only one region, which is the Maghreb (North Africa) in general and Algeria in particular, to make up for its weakness elsewhere and prove its presence. This has been proven by the series of bombings that occurred in the region throughout this year."
Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said the explosions began about 9:30 a.m. local time when two suicide bombers detonated in their vehicles.
At least 10 people were killed when a car blew up at the entrance of the new Constitutional Council near the Supreme Court; the blast ripped through a bus carrying students to Ben Aknoun University. The Constitutional Council oversees the country's elections.
Minutes later, in a high-security neighborhood of embassies and French colonial architecture, a bomb concealed in a cistern atop a small truck exploded and tore through a U.N. compound. It destroyed the U.N.'s Development Program office and severely damaged offices for the High Commissioner for Refugees. The U.N. said five of its employees, including two from UNHCR, were killed.
"The situation on the ground is very confusing," said Marie Okabe, a U.N. spokeswoman. "They (U.N. staff) are trying to locate people in hospitals. They're digging through the rubble."
At least one person had been pulled alive from the rubble, and others were still missing. The U.N. had 19 permanent and 21 temporary international staff and 115 local staff in Algeria. The agency provides services to 90,000 refugees, mostly in the southern part of the country.
Algerian authorities said 26 people were killed and 177 wounded in both attacks -those figures were significantly lower than media reports quoting hospital and police sources suggesting that as many as 67 people had died. The interior minister added that information received through interrogations from militants arrested in earlier raids suggested that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb was behind the attacks and was planning others.