Algerian soldier killed in attack at police checkpoint

January 20, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

ALGIERS, Algeria -- In the first outbreak of violence since the military derailed a Muslim fundamentalist victory at the polls last week, a soldier was killed and two others wounded in an attack on a police checkpoint south of the Algerian capital, authorities reported yesterday.

In a separate incident, a homemade bomb was hurled at the national militia headquarters in Algiers Saturday night, and fundamentalist leaders warned that it may be difficult to contain further explosions of violence.

The Islamic Salvation Front, which was set to claim a majority of the seats in the National Assembly before the army forced President Chadli Bendjedid to resign and canceled the balloting, predicted yesterday that "heavy consequences" would result from "provocations . . . aimed at creating an explosive situation."

Authorities have reportedly arrested more than 500 Islamic Front supporters since the crackdown Jan. 12, and the country has been left perilously adrift as the fundamentalists and the authorities maneuver for position.

An Arab military source said that army leaders have targeted the middle-level Islamic Front leadership for arrests, seeking to cut off the lines of communication between the rank-and-file and acting front leader Abdelkadir Hachani.

"But Hachani will be arrested also -- there is no doubt -- it is only a question of when," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

The same official said that Mr. Bendjedid is being held under virtual house arrest at a family residence in Zeralda, about 18 miles west of Algiers, where he has been visiting relatives since his resignation last weekend. The house is surrounded by a tank brigade, the official said.

During weekly prayers Friday, when riot police and soldiers surrounded the city's mosques, Islamic Front leaders appealed to thousands of supporters for calm, seeking to check any confrontation that would give the government an excuse to step in and outlaw the Islamic party.

But Mr. Hachani vowed that the fundamentalists would eventually prevail, despite the crackdown. "The FIS [Islamic Front] will arrive in power, because the present power is already in view of what's ahead: its own disappearance," he told followers.

"The FIS has provoked the resignation of a government, including the president of the republic and will provoke that of the regime as well."

Meeting for the first time since the first round of elections in late December, 188 Islamic Front candidates who had been assured of seats in the 430-seat National Assembly after the first round of balloting demanded the election of a new assembly, with its head to take over as president.

Mr. Bendjedid dissolved the present parliament at the time of his resignation.

Currently in place at the head of government is a five-member High Council of State.

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