- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

12:14 p.m.

ALGIERS (AP) — Bombs heavily damaged the prime minister’s office and a police station today, killing at least 23 persons and wounding about 160, the country’s official news agency said.

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, who was unhurt, said militants were responsible for the “cowardly, criminal terrorist act” as he spoke to reporters outside his wrecked offices.

Al Qaeda’s wing in North Africa claimed responsibility for the attacks, Al Jazeera reported.

The attacks were a devastating setback for the North African nation’s efforts to close the chapter on its Islamic insurgency, which has killed 200,000 people. After years of relative calm, an al Qaeda affiliate recently has waged several smaller attacks in the oil- and gas-rich nation.

Mr. Belkhadem declined to say how many had been killed or wounded.

The official APS agency said at least 23 persons were killed and 160 wounded in the two attacks but gave no further breakdown. The other bombing targeted the police station of Bab Ezzouar, east of the capital, Algiers, on the road to its airport.

A charred, wrecked car lay on the pavement about 98 feet from the gates of the government building — a modern white, blocklike high-rise that also houses the Interior Ministry. It was not clear immediately whether the car had been involved in the bombing.

Police cordoned off stairs leading up to the government building with orange police tape, and paramedics raced up the steps with stretchers. Paramedics escorted a man with blood on his head into an ambulance. Another woman, looking dazed and in tears, was checked for head injuries.

The explosion at about 10:45 a.m. local time caused windows to rattle at least half a mile away. Few details were available immediately about the other attack east of the capital.

Algeria’s insurgency broke out in 1992, after the army canceled legislative elections that an Islamic party appeared set to win.

Since then, violence related to the insurgency has left an estimated 200,000 dead — civilians, soldiers and Islamic fighters — according to the government. Algeria’s military led a crackdown on militants hiding out in the country’s brush and mountains, while the government tried to reconcile the nation with several amnesty offers to militants willing to turn in their weapons.

Mr. Belkhadem expressed bitterness at insurgents who have refused the amnesty offers.

“The Algerian people stretched out a hand to them, and they respond with a terrorist act,” he said.

Large-scale violence died down in the late 1990s, but skirmishes have surged in recent months as an al Qaeda affiliate carried out a deadly and carefully planned series of bomb attacks. Several targeted foreign workers.

A March 3 bombing of a bus carrying workers for a Russian company killed a Russian engineer and three Algerians. A December attack near Algiers targeting a bus carrying foreign employees of an affiliate of Halliburton killed an Algerian and a Lebanese citizen.

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