Suicide attack at Algerian police academy kills 43


By Alfred de Montesquiou
The Associated Press


A soldier stands in front of a nearby damaged building, after a suicide car bomber rammed into a police academy in the town of Les Issers, in the Boumerdes region, 60 kilometers (35 miles) east Algiers, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008. The attack occurred as applicants lined up to register for classes early Tuesday, killing at least 43 people and injuring 45, officials said. The blast ripped off parts of the police academy's roof, and damaged much of its facade and nearby buildings. It was the deadliest attack in recent years in the North African country. (AP Photo)

ALGIERS, Algeria — A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-rigged car into a police academy as recruits lined up to register for classes, killing at least 43 people. It was the deadliest attack in the North African country since the 1990s.

The Interior Ministry said 42 civilians and a police officer were killed in the attack early Tuesday in the town of Les Issers, some 35 miles east of the capital, Algiers, the state-run APS news agency said.

The blast ripped off parts of the policy academy's roof, and damaged its facade. Photos transmitted by APS showed bodies wrapped in yellow plastic bags or blankets lying amid the rubble. Nearby houses and passing cars were also damaged.

Witnesses said all roads within two miles of Les Issers were blocked and cell phone networks were scrambled as police closed off the area.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but the country's al-Qaida affiliate has said it was behind a series of bombings in the past two years.

A security official at the school told The Associated Press that the attack occurred as young recruits waited to sign up for classes.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media, said the local academy was vulnerable because of the crowd of applicants at its gate.

Most of the civilians killed were police recruits, but witnesses said the blast also killed several people in nearby cars.

A resident of Les Issers said the explosion woke him and blasted a three-foot deep crater into the road in front of the police academy. "It made a huge noise, my windows shook," said Mohammed, a shopkeeper who refused to give his last name.

Tuesday's attack was one of the largest - if not the largest - in years.

In December, a double suicide bombing in Algiers killed 41 people, including 17 U.N. workers. In April 2007, coordinated suicide strikes against the main government offices in central Algiers and a police station killed 33.

Those attacks, like most of those recently, were claimed by Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, formerly known as the GSPC. The group grew out of an insurgency in the 1990s, which began when the army called off the second round of legislative elections that an Islamist party was slated to win. Years of ensuing violence left as many as 200,000 dead.

Violence diminished in Algeria in the early part of this decade, but attacks increased again after the GSPC affirmed allegiance to al-Qaida in 2006.

Most attacks have targeted the Algerian national security services and military, while a few have struck foreigners.

Tuesday's bombing came two days after a militant ambush in Skirda, about 300 miles east of Algiers, apparently targeted the military commander of the region and his police escort. Twelve people died in the Sunday attack, according to the Al Watan newspaper and several other dailies. Authorities have not commented on the case.

The reports said suspected Islamic militants detonated road mines, then opened fire on the convoy. They beheaded the victims and stole their uniforms along with a dozen automatic rifles.

In a similar attack three days earlier, militants killed the military chief for the Jijel area, also east of Algiers, local media reported.

The United States condemned Tuesday's bombing, calling it "another example of the reach of extremists."

"We support the government of Algeria as best we can in trying to fight this," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood. "It's another reminder of how terrorism can hit you any place, any time, any where."

The Algerian people are "once again victims of blind and barbaric terrorist violence," said a European Union statement issued by France, the current president of the 27-nation bloc.

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