Bomb attacks strike Algiers

Islamic militants suspected in blasts killing at least 23

April 12, 2007|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,Los Angeles Times

CAIRO, Egypt -- Suspected Islamic militants struck the Algerian capital yesterday morning, killing at least 23 people and injuring more than 162, an intensification of Islamic violence in a country struggling to recover from a brutal years-long civil war.

One of the bombs targeted the main government building in Algiers, a modern office tower called the Government Palace, killing at least 12 people and wounding 118, according to the nation's official news agency. The building houses the offices of the prime minister.

The other attack struck at a police station east of the capital in the suburb of Bab Ezzouar, killing at least 11 and wounding 44, said the Algierie Presse Service, citing civil defense officials, who warned that the casualty figures could rise.

Yesterday's attacks, the first major bombings in the battle-scarred Algerian capital for several years, come amid a recent swell of Islamic militant activity in North Africa.

Al-Jazeera television said a caller phoned the network and said the near-simultaneous attacks were the work of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or North Africa.

The man, who called himself Abu Mohammad Salah, vowed that al-Qaida would continue its operations "to liberate every acre of the lands of Islam ... and liberate our men in prisons in Tunisia and Algeria," Al-Jazeera reported.

Television footage showed clouds of smoke rising from devastated buildings.

One showed the side of a several-story building with its facade sheared off by a bombing and firemen hurrying to the scene of a blast.

Three rescue workers carried off an injured man, whose ripped white shirt and face were covered with blood. Al-Jazeera broadcast a photo of a man raising his hand, blood covering his head. Another photo showed two elderly men sitting on the street weeping, their bodies covered with blood.

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, unhurt in the attack, called it "a criminal and [cowardly] act" meant to destabilize the country at the time that the secular government and Islamic militants are attempting to forge a peace.

"This criminal attack is perpetrated at the time when the Algerian people are seeking national reconciliation," he said to the news agency.

The bombings came as the oil-rich North African country prepares for May 17 parliamentary elections.

Islamic militants and Algiers' secular government have been pitted against each other since the late 1970s. The Algerian government fought against insurgents in a vicious civil war that has left more than 150,000 dead since 1992, when the army canceled elections that Islamic activists were about to win. The violence has dissipated in recent years, despite occasional bombings and assassinations.

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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