Algerian Islamists kill 56 in raids on army and families

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The Independent Online

Islamic militants ambushed a military convoy in north-east Algeria and attacked families near the capital, Algiers, in a weekend of killings that claimed at least 56 lives, Algerian media reported yesterday.

Islamic militants ambushed a military convoy in north-east Algeria and attacked families near the capital, Algiers, in a weekend of killings that claimed at least 56 lives, Algerian media reported yesterday.

The ambush on Saturday night killed 43 soldiers and seriously wounded 19 others, the deadliest assault suffered by the Algerian military in at least five years.

In the other attack, Islamic militants killed 13 people from two families overnight on Saturday in Zabana, 30 miles south of Algiers, the official news agency APS reported, citing security services. It attributed the attack to the Armed Islamic Group, the north African country's most radical insurgent group. The killings dealt a blow to claims by Algeria's military-backed government that it was winning its decade-old battle against Islamic extremists.

The military convoy was ambushed in the village of Theniet al-Abed, about 200 miles south-east of Algiers, the newspaper Le Matin reported.

The mountainous region is a known stronghold of the Islamic extremist Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC. The GSPC is on a United States blacklist of terrorist organisations and reportedly has links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida terror network.

The attackers apparently had advance knowledge of the convoy's arrival and detonated devices made from bottles of explosive acetylene gas, which is commonly used in metal welding.

The wounded were treated in hospitals in the nearby towns of Biskra and Batna. The dead were soldiers or members of Algeria's civilian defence force, Le Matin said, citing hospital officials. But military authorities in Batna and hospital officials refused yesterday to comment on the report.

The attack was the most damaging on the military since at least February 1998, when 28 soldiers were killed in an ambush in Boghni in the restive Kabyle region, 80 miles east of Algiers.

More than 120,000 people have been killed in more than a decade of civil strife in Algeria, where Islamic militants have been staging massacres since they were shut of out parliamentary elections in 1992. Last year some 1,100 civilians, militants and security forces were killed in violence linked to the insurgency, roughly the same number as in 2001. (AP)

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