- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 6, 2002

ALGIERS A wave of explosions marred Algeria's independence day celebrations yesterday, with the most deadly blast ripping through a crowded open-air market outside the capital, killing at least 30 persons and injuring dozens.

The market blast in the town of Larba, nearly 15 miles southeast of the capital, was the deadliest attack in more than two years in this North African nation, which is battling a 10-year Muslim insurgency. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.

A second bomb at a ceremony honoring war veterans killed one person and injured another, the official APS news agency said, while witnesses reported a third blast at a Mediterranean beach that slightly injured a 5-year-old.

The attacks came as Algerians celebrate the 40th anniversary of independence from France, won after a brutal seven-year war.

"It's a sad anniversary," said Said Sadi, leader of the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy party. "We can legitimately have the feeling that it's an enormous waste."

The bomb in Larba was hidden in the mouth of a sewer, according to witnesses. The blast, which injured 36 persons, left behind a deep crater and scattered cartons and vegetable stands. Patches of blood stained the ground.

APS, citing military authorities, said the bomb exploded at 9:15 a.m. when the area was bustling with shoppers. It put the death toll as 30.

Many Larba residents blamed security forces for not keeping closer watch. Officials had reinforced security for independence day, but their efforts were largely confined to the capital.

"We have been abandoned to fend for ourselves," said Fadi Abdelahak, a 57-year-old shopkeeper in Larba. "We need weapons to defend ourselves."

A second bomb in a cemetery near Jijel, 125 miles east of the capital, killed a security agent and injured another person, APS said. The handmade device went off prior to a ceremony to honor veterans of the independence war.

Witnesses reported a third explosion at a Mediterranean beach known as Azur Plage about 20 miles west of the capital. A 5-year-old boy suffered minor injuries, the witnesses said. The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.

It could not be determined whether the blasts were the work of Islamic extremists. The market bomb was the nation's worst attack since December 1999, when militants opened fire on vehicles at a roadblock, killing 29 persons.

An estimated 120,000 people have been killed since the violence started in 1992 after the army aborted legislative elections to thwart victory by a Muslim fundamentalist party.

The Larba area was long a haunt of the radical Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, blamed for most civilian massacres.

The GIA and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, another radical group, are on Washington's list of terrorist organizations. U.S. officials have praised Algeria for its efforts in fighting terrorism.

Numerous suspected Algerian Islamic extremists, or those of Algerian origin, have been implicated in recent plots to attack targets in Europe. Since September 11, dozens have been detained for suspected connections to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

The GIA and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat refused an amnesty plan offered by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to bring peace to this tormented nation. Other radical groups turned in their arms.

More than 750 people have been killed since the start of the year in Algeria, according to an unofficial account by the press.


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