Algeria bombs kill 12 as violence escalates

BOUIRA, Algeria Wed Aug 20, 2008 1:09pm EDT

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BOUIRA, Algeria (Reuters) - Two car bombs in Algeria killed 12 people and wounded 42 on Wednesday, the latest attacks in the bloodiest week of unrest in years and a blow to hopes the OPEC member state can soon end an Islamist insurgency.

The bombings at Bouira, 90 km (56 miles) southeast of Algiers, follow a spate of attacks by al Qaeda's north African wing including a bombing on Tuesday that killed 48 people and ambushes on Sunday that killed 11.

Canadian engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc said 12 of its Algerian employees were killed when a bus carrying them to work on a water project was hit by an explosion.

"The bus was left a complete wreck," said one witness who did not want to be named. "Nearby were pools of blood, watches, tattered clothes and a mobile telephone still ringing."

The Interior Ministry said that explosion happened 15 minutes after a first bomb hit an army barracks at 6 a.m. (1:00 a.m. EDT).

Halim Osbani, 32, who lives near the military barracks, said a suicide bomber rammed a car into the building.

"The blast pulverized the bomber's body into pieces, with bits of his limbs strewn meters away" he said.

A ministry communique carried by the official APS news agency said 12 people were killed. It said 42 people, including seven military personnel and a policeman, were wounded.

The ministry also reported that the death toll from Tuesday's bombing had risen to 48 from 43.

The urban bombings reflect new tactics first adopted in 2007 by the militants fighting to set up purist Islamic rule in the North African country of 34 million, a key oil and gas supplier to Europe.

The rebels had previously specialized in ambushing troops in remote areas, analysts said. Some Islamic scholars in Algeria and abroad had argued that suicide bombings were un-Islamic.

HARDLINERS IN CHARGE

"The hardcore of hardliners in the group in favor of suicide bombings are in charge of the operations on the ground," said security analyst Mounir Boudjemaa, explaining the attacks.

"There is no easy solution to stop a suicide bomber. The only way is to continue to besiege the terrorist strongholds and fight them there. It is a race against time," he said.

Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni reiterated the government's view on Tuesday that the militants were being driven "to the wall" by security forces.

Tuesday's bombing was one of the bloodiest incidents in years. The target was the gendarmerie training school at Issers, 55 km (34 miles) east of the capital.

In Washington, the White House condemned the attack.

"These criminals and thugs must be stopped, and the United States will continue working with Algeria in close cooperation on counterterrorism measures," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters.

Violence began in Algeria in 1992 when a military-backed government scrapped elections a radical Islamic party was poised to win. About 150,000 people have died in the ensuing violence.

Since adopting the Al Qaeda name early last year for its previous name Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, it has claimed several attacks including the twin suicide bombings of U.N. offices and a court building in Algiers in December 2007 which killed 41 people.

Analyst Anis Rahmani said the killing of large numbers of civilians in the recent bombings was reminiscent of the country's worst massacres in the 1990s, blamed on the now disbanded Algerian Islamic Group (GIA).

"That strategy caused the failure of the GIA," Rahmani said.

David Hartwell, Middle East Editor for Janes Country Risk, said there was a concern that car bombings were being carried out by militants who had trained with insurgents fighting U.S. occupation in Iraq.

"But the group is viewed increasingly as outsiders coming in to attack Algeria. There's no evidence they have more support among the population. This is still a localized thing," he said.

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria)

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