- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

ALGIERS — A day after suicide bombers blasted the walls off the Algerian prime minister’s office and carried out two other coordinated attacks, killing 33 persons, Algerians seemed resigned to a return to violence.

Workers in hard hats were already cementing bricks into place at the prime minister’s office yesterday to patch up the devastation. The speedy rebuilding was one sign that Algeria had reverted to survival skills learned during the deadly Islamist insurgency that peaked in the 1990s.

Streets were closed off. Police turned out in force — a once-familiar sight in Algiers, which had come to life again after the dark years when people were afraid to go out at night. Once again Wednesday night, people mostly stayed home.

The next day, people swamped newsstands and gathered in parks to talk about what happened. Hamoud Ouachad, 33, passed the time by watching workers at the prime minister’s office, where a scaffolding surrounded the building.

“We had forgotten what happened,” he said, referring to the insurgency. “And now it’s starting over. … We want peace. We don’t want this to become a daily occurrence.”

Fifty-seven persons remained hospitalized with injuries yesterday. Western countries reduced embassy services and urged their citizens to avoid traveling on predictable routes.

The new al Qaeda faction that took responsibility for Wednesday’s bombings, al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa, was built on the foundations of the Algerian insurgent group that tried to topple Algeria’s secular government.

The insurgency broke out in 1992, and over the years an estimated 200,000 people — including militants, security forces and civilians — were killed.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has devoted his presidency to ending the insurgency, held an emergency meeting with senior officials. Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem said May 17 legislative elections would go ahead.

“Such criminal acts are meant to plunge Algeria back into the crisis years,” Mr. Belkhadem said.

Interior Minister Yazid Noureddine Zerhouni blamed the attacks on Abdelmalek Droukdal, leader of Algeria’s al Qaeda faction.

“Neutralizing him could take several weeks or several years,” the minister said.

The new al Qaeda group posted pictures, names and details about the bombers on an Islamic Web site known as a clearinghouse for extremist groups’ material. The site said the man who attacked the prime minister’s office, identified as Mouaz bin Jabl, used 1,500 pounds of explosives, a claim that could not be verified.

Until recently, Algeria’s peace efforts seemed successful. Military crackdowns and amnesty offers decimated the ranks of militants and left the holdouts isolated in rural hide-outs. No major attack had hit the Algiers region since 2002.

But late last year, the main Algerian militant group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, changed its name to al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa and began targeting foreigners — signs that the dwindling ranks of Islamic fighters were regrouping.

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