Algerian ex-PM killed in ambush

ALGIERS - Muslim fundamentalists shot dead the former Algerian prime minister Kasdi Merbah and two members of his family in an ambush of their car outside Algiers, the official APS news agency said yesterday. The first Algerian opposition leader to be assassinated in a campaign of violence against the state, Merbah was killed near his home in the coastal resort of Bordj el- Bahri at the weekend.

A former military security chief under Algeria's former Socialist leader Houari Boumedienne, he was the only member of the opposition to have publicly urged Muslim militants to lay down their weapons. Merbah's son and brother were also killed in the attack, as were their driver and a bodyguard.

APS blamed the killing on 'terrorists', the official term for Islamic fundamentalists who stepped up a campaign of violence in early 1992 after the government scrapped a general election that the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win. Merbah was prime minister from late 1988 to 1989 and had served as minister of heavy industry, agriculture and health.

The head of the opposition Algerian Movement for Justice and Development, he published an open letter on 13 July urging Muslim militants to lay down their weapons.

The attack was not the first on an Algerian opposition leader. El-Hashemi Sherif, head of the anti-Islamist Etta Haddi party, was slightly hurt in an attack on his car in April. Etta Haddi is the new name for the former Algerian Communist party.

At least 86 civilians, 78 security-force members and 426 Muslim militant gunmen have been killed in the unrest since the start of 1993.

CAIRO - Egyptian authorities released some 20 people held for questioning and made no significant progress in their search for surviving members of the militant group that nearly killed the Interior Minister, Hassan al- Alfi, last week, Reuter reports.

Five days after the bomb attack on Mr Alfi's motorcade, police were still groping for fresh clues. They said it was still unclear how many militants took part in the attack or whether the bombs were set off by remote control, a timer or a fuse set by attackers on the scene. No suspects had been arrested, police said yesterday.

The most important clues have come from identifying two of the attackers who were killed in the explosion. Police said the two dead militants belonged to al-Jihad (Holy Struggle), which assassinated president Anwar Sadat in 1981.