ALGIERS Twenty-three people were wounded on Saturday when a suicide bomber drove a four-wheel drive vehicle packed with explosives at a paramilitary police base in a Sahara desert town, local media and security officials said.
The attack was the first in the town of Tamanrasset, an oasis about 2,000 km (1,240) miles south of the Algerian capital, and underscored mounting instability in the Sahara desert after the conflict in nearby Libya.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack, but al Qaeda's north African wing, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has for years been waging an insurgency in Algeria and neighboring countries.
The wounded people were 15 gendarmes, or paramilitary police, five members of the civil protection service and three civilians who were passing when the attack happened, Algeria's APS state news agency quoted a gendarme official as saying.
One of the wounded gendarmes was in serious condition, the official was quoted as saying.
The casualties were caused by a Toyota four-wheel drive which exploded after it was driven at the perimeter of the gendarmes' base at 7:48 a.m. (0648 GMT), according to the online edition of Algeria's Ennahar newspaper.
Security officials confirmed to Reuters the newspaper's account of the attack.
Security experts say the conflict in Libya which last year forced out leader Muammar Gaddafi has allowed weapons looted from Gaddafi's arsenals to fall into the hands of insurgents from neighboring countries.
This has provided a boost to the operations of AQIM, analysts say, and also helped fuel a separatist rebellion by Tuareg tribesman in Mali, to the south.
Tamanrasset is the site of a joint military staff headquarters intended to coordinate anti-insurgency efforts by states in the Sahara desert region.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)