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French Version

Twin suicide bombings claim at least 60 lives in Algiers

Twin car bombings in Algiers on Tuesday killed more than 60 people and wounded more than 170 others in the bloodiest attack in the North African country since an undeclared civil war in the 1990s.

Al-Qaeda's North African wing said in a Web statement two of its members carried out the bombings in the Algerian capital.

The attacks were carried out by Abdel-Rahman al-Aasmi and Ami Ibrahim Abou Othman, the group said in a statement posted on an Islamist Web site. It showed pictures of the suicide bombers holding assault rifles.

At least five United Nations employees were killed and many others were wounded, UN officials said after blasts which left bodies on the street and destroyed several cars and buses.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told BBC World television, "I have no doubt that the United Nations was targeted."

The bombs were set off by the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said, referring to the former name of Al-Qaeda's North Africa wing.

"We are sure that the GSPC is behind it," Zerhouni told a news conference. A Health Ministry source said 67 people were killed in the explosions in the affluent districts of Algiers.

Al-Qaeda's North Africa wing claimed responsibility for a similar bombing in downtown Algiers in April and other blasts east of the capital over the summer that have worried foreign investors.

One of Tuesday's blasts struck near the Constitutional Court building in Ben Aknoun district and the other close to the UN offices and a police station in Hydra, both areas where several Western companies have their offices.

Zerhouni said a suicide attacker appeared to have detonated the Hydra bomb.

The full force of the Ben Aknoun bomb blew apart a bus packed with university students as it passed the Supreme Court headed for a nearby law faculty.

Security sources said most of the dead and wounded from this attack were students.

The blast left a crater several meters wide and badly damaged the Constitutional Council building which was only recently inaugurated by President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika.

In Ben Aknoun people ran through the streets crying in panic and the wail of police sirens filled the air. A body lay on the road covered with a white blanket, two buses were burning, and debris from cars was strewn across pavements while police struggled to hold back onlookers.

"I want to call my family, but it is impossible. The network is jammed. I know they are very concerned as I work near by the council," a veiled woman working at a perfume shop said.

"There was a massive blast," a UN worker wrote in an anonymous item for a BBC Web site. "Everything shattered. Everything fell. I hid under a piece of furniture so I wouldn't be hit by the debris ... One of my colleagues had a big wound in her neck, she was bleeding severely."

Security forces put up road blocks around the city and Premier Abdel-Aziz Belkahdem called off a planned Cabinet meeting to go to hospitals where the wounded were being treated.

"These are crimes which target innocents. Students, schoolchildren are among the victims," he said at one hospital.

Algeria, a major gas supplier to Europe, is recovering from more than a decade of violence that began in 1992 when the then army-backed government scrapped elections a hard-line Islamic party was set to win. Up to 200,000 people have been killed in the subsequent violence.

The violence has subsided since then but a string of attacks this year has killed 33 people and wounded more than 220.

Several attacks or attempted bombings have occurred on the 11th of the month in what some Algerians interpret as a form of homage to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US in New York and Washington.

Anis Rahmani, editor of Ennahar daily and a security specialist said, "Al-Qaeda wanted to send a strong message that it is still capable despite the loss of several top leaders. Now the key problem is that social conditions are still offering chances for terrorists to hire new rebels."

To date the authorities have said the only way to put an end to the bloodshed is to pursue "national reconciliation," a policy which grants amnesty to militants in return for disarmament.

But commentators say the strategy takes no account of a bleak background of unemployment and poverty that fuels discontent and aids recruitment of suicide bombers.

Marseille,12 17 2007
The Daily Star
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