Five French shot dead in Algiers

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The Independent Online
PARIS (Reuter) - Five French nationals were shot dead when suspected Muslim insurgents attacked the French embassy's main housing complex in suburban Algiers in broad daylight yesterday. It was their boldest assault on foreigners so far.

France's Defence Minister, Francois Leotard, said gunmen opened fire as they drove a car-bomb into the heavily guarded complex where most of the remaining French embassy staff live, killing three paramilitary gendarmes and two embassy officials, including the vice-consul.

The car-bomb, parked in the stairwell of a residential building, was defused in time to prevent a far worse disaster at the complex in a south-west district of the capital, where 70 French nationals live amid tight security. The deaths took to 15 the number of French nationals killed in Algeria since radical insurgents of the Islamic Armed Group (GIA) began targeting foreigners last year.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said a sixth French national, a gendarme, was wounded. Mr Leotard said it happened as the guard was changing, suggesting a carefully planned operation. A source close to Algerian intelligence said the assailants were disguised as elite 'Ninja' commandos and drove a paramilitary-style patrol vehicle in front of the booby-trapped car. Although the high-risk complex is guarded by France's elite gendarmerie intervention group (GIGN), none of the attackers was apparently wounded and all escaped.

Mr Leotard and the Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, flew to Algiers within hours of the attack to offer condolences to relatives of the victims and discuss improved security measures. At the airport, Mr Leotard said all non-essential French personnel would be withdrawn, in addition to spouses and children who have already returned home, but he rejected evacuating all French nationals.

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