Algiers, Algeria: Al-Qaida’s new wing in North Africa claimed responsibility for coordinated suicide bombings on 11 April 2007 that ripped through the prime minister’s office and a police station in Algeria, killing at least 24 people.
The attacks — which also wounded some 222 people — were a devastating setback to the country’s peace efforts and highlighted the menacing spread of Islamic militancy across North Africa.
One car bombing tore holes in the walls of the premier’s office, where people in bloodstained clothes stumbled toward ambulances. Two other vehicles exploded outside a police station east of the capital, blasting craters into the ground and damaging the building.
The group that claimed responsibility, al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, has carried out a series of recent bombings, jeopardizing Algeria’s tentative peace. The country has been trying to turn the page on a 15-year Islamic insurgency that killed 2,00,000 people.
Until recently, the peace efforts seemed successful: Military crackdowns and amnesty offers had turned Algeria’s fighters into a ragtag assembly of fighters in rural hide-outs.
But late last year, the main Algerian militant group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, changed its name to al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa and began targeting foreigners — signs the country’s dwindling ranks of Islamic fighters were regrouping.
The attacks were the deadliest to hit the Algiers region since 2002, when a bomb in a market in a suburb killed 38 people and injured 80. The targeting of the premier’s office was among the most brazen in Algerian history.
Wednesday’s attacks fell on April 11, which has potentially symbolic meaning. Attacks on the 11th day of the month are a hallmark of attacks led by al-Qaida and its admirers.
Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem — who was not in his office when the attack occurred — called the bombings a “cowardly, criminal terrorist act” as he spoke to reporters outside the wrecked building. Parts of six floors were ripped away, and the iron gates outside were bent by the blast’s force.
He said legislative elections would proceed as planned on May 17.
The Algerian government did not name suspects. But Al-Jazeera television reported that it received a call from a spokesman for al-Qaida’s North Africa wing saying the blasts were set off by three suicide bombers in vehicles packed with explosives.
The bombers had three targets, the caller said: the premier’s office, Interpol offices and a special police forces building in the eastern suburb of Bab Ezzouar. An Interpol spokeswoman, however, said the international police organization has no office in that suburb.
Witnesses said they had seen a red car drive toward the premier’s office. Police opened fire to try to stop it, they said, and the car then exploded. A charred, wrecked car lay on the pavement near the building — a modern white, block-like high-rise that also houses the Interior Ministry.
Civil defense officials reported that the bombing of the government building killed at least 12 people and injured 135. Their statement said 12 others were killed and 87 wounded in the attack on the police station, which is on the road to Algiers’ airport.
The bombings came just one day after three suspected terrorists in neighboring Morocco blew themselves up as police were closing in on them, and a fourth was shot and killed by police while he appeared to be preparing to detonate his explosives.