ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said 10 militants killed by government forces this week included fighters from Libya, Mali and Tunisia, state news reported on Wednesday.
Algeria heightened border security last year after a French military intervention to drive al Qaeda-linked militants from Mali and an attack on Algeria’s Amenas gas plant near the Libyan border.
Algerian troops killed 10 fighters near Tin-Zaouatine, bordering Mali, and captured rocket launchers, rifles and grenades in an operation that began on Monday and was still ongoing.
“It was an attempted infiltration by a heavily armed terrorist group with elements from Mali, Libya and from Tunisia,” the president said after a meeting with ministers, according to the APS news agency.
It was the first comments by the ailing president since he formed a new government this week following his re-election last month to a fourth term.
Bouteflika, 77, won the election though he did not campaign himself and has spoken rarely in public since a stroke last year that left him in a Paris hospital for three months and raised questions about Algeria’s stability.
Militant attacks are rarer since Algeria ended its decade-long 1990s war with armed Islamists, but the North African branch of al Qaeda and other militants are still active, especially in the south.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for an ambush last month on an army patrol in the mountains east of Algiers that killed 14 soldiers.
In January last year, militants raided the Amenas gas plant, killing 40 oil contractors, most of them foreigners. That attack was partly launched by veteran Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar from across the Libyan border.
In his statement on Wednesday, Bouteflika said he had ordered his staff to prepare consultations about promised constitutional reforms to open up a political system opponents say has been dominated by the ruling FLN party and the military since 1962 independence from France.
“In mid-May, political parties, national figures and associations will receive proposed amendments,” he said. Discussions at the presidency would follow in June.
Opposition parties boycotted April’s election saying it was stacked in favor of the FLN and its allies.
Reporting by Patrick Markey and Lamine Chikhi in Algiers; Editing by Robin Pomeroy