CAIRO, Egypt -- Gunmen killed former Prime Minister Kasdi Merbah of Algeria yesterday, and the authorities blamed Muslim fundamentalists who are trying to replace Algeria's secular society with an Iranian-style Islamic republic.
Mr. Merbah, 55, was killed along with his son, brother, bodyguard and chauffeur as they were returning from a beach house in a coastal resort east of Algiers.
He was known as a vehement opponent of Muslim fundamentalism, and his assassination reflects the rift in Algerian society that has turned into a near civil war since January 1992.
More than 1,200 people, including civilians, police officers, soldiers and Muslim militants have been killed in the violence, and several hundred have been wounded.
Mr. Merbah, a former army colonel, headed the country's state security organization from 1963 to 1980. In 1988 he was named prime minister after food riots toppled the previous Cabinet, but he was dismissed from that post a year later and formed an opposition party, the Algerian Movement for Justice and Development.
The slaying of Mr. Merbah came a day after the military-dominated High State Council, which has governed the country since a coup in 1992, dismissed Prime Minister Belaid Abdesalam and replaced him with Reda Malek, who had been foreign minister.
The move signaled a further hardening of the governing establishment's attitude in its fight against Muslim fundamentalists, whose victory in Algeria's first free parliamentary elections in December 1991 set off the military-backed takeover.