ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian government forces have killed 10 Islamist militants in an operation in the south of the country, the state news agency APS said, where authorities are concerned about an influx of arms and fighters from neighboring Mali and Libya.
Violence and militant attacks are rarer since Algeria ended its decade-long 1990s war with armed Islamists, but the North African branch of al Qaeda branch and other militants are still active, especially in the south where desert borders are porous.
“The number of terrorists killed in an operation since Monday near Tin-Zaouatine ... has risen to ten,” APS said, quoting a Defence Ministry bulletin. It said that rifles, rocket and grenade launchers were also recovered.
AQIM claimed responsibility for an assault last month in which militants ambushed an army patrol in the mountains east of Algiers, killing 14 soldiers, a few days after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was re-elected to a fourth term.
It was the worst attack against the armed forces in several years in Algeria, which under Bouteflika’s rule has become a major ally in the Western campaign against Islamist militancy in the Maghreb.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as the regional Qaeda branch is known, is mostly based in the Sahel area that crosses southern Algeria. The army has killed 37 other militants in operations since January, according to the ministry, including several in the eastern mountains. Security sources say some have been found with weapons traced to Libya, where militants have flourished amid widespread disorder.
In January last year, militants raided Algeria’s Amenas gas plant near Libya’s border, killing 40 oil contractors, most of them foreigners, in an attack that prompted BP and Norway’s Statoil to pull their workers out.
Reporting by Patrick Markey; Editing by Mark Heinrich