- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2007

From combined dispatches

ALGIERS — A car bombing killed 28 coast guard officers yesterday in Algeria, just days after a blast ripped through a crowd waiting for the president.

Al Qaeda’s north Africa wing said it was behind both suicide attacks, according to a statement posted on the Internet.

It said the al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb was behind yesterday’s suicide truck bombing at a coast guard barracks east of Algiers and an attack in the town of Batna less than 48 hours earlier.

The statement said President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was originally the intended target of the bomb in Batna, 270 miles southeast of Algiers, but the bomber was forced detonate his device prematurely after being discovered shortly before a scheduled visit by the Algerian leader.

The victims of yesterday’s attack were all coast guard officials, hospital authorities said.

It was Algeria’s deadliest attack since April, when triple suicide bombings against the prime minister’s office and a police station killed 32.

Thursday’s bombing killed at least 22 in a crowd of people in Batna in eastern Algeria who were waiting to see the visiting president, who has devoted his eight years in office to ending violence by insurgents. His government is also a staunch U.S. ally in the war against terror.

Algeria’s insurgency broke out in 1992 after the army canceled elections that a now-banned Islamist party was poised to win. Up to 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing violence.

Widespread killings were on the wane until this year, when the Algerian militant group Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC, officially linked up with al Qaeda, taking the name al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa.

The group claimed responsibility for the triple suicide attacks in April and another blast in July, when a suicide bomber blew up a truck inside a military encampment, killing 10 soldiers. The militants have also killed foreigners in smaller-scale attacks.

Over the years, the government has offered amnesty to reformed militants while waging tough military operations against those who refuse them — a strategy Mr. Bouteflika pledges will reconcile the nation.

North African countries stepped up security coordination to counter armed groups seeking to establish Islamic rule in a region on Europe’s southern flank that depends, to a large extent, on oil and gas exports and tourism.

Al Qaeda’s No. 2 commander, Egyptian cleric Ayman al-Zawahri, referred to north Africa in a July broadcast and said the region’s “corrupt” governments should be removed.

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