ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) – At least eight suspected militants and two soldiers were killed during clashes with the Algerian army this week as authorities conducted large sweeps against al-Qaida-linked terrorist bases near the capital, officials and local media said Saturday.
Three militants were slain on Thursday after the army attacked a terrorist stronghold in the Amejoudh area next to Tizi Ouzou, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of the capital, Algiers, an official and local media said. The gunbattle lasted a full day before militants retreated further into the mountains of Kabylie, an often restive region that has borne the brunt in recent months of attacks by al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, a local affiliate of the global terror organization.
Soldiers and paramilitary communal guards found stocks of automatic weapons, medicine and computer gear at the bases they stormed in the woods, a local official in Tizi Ouzou said.
The official, who requested anonymity because Algerian regulations forbid discussing security matters, confirmed that two soldiers were killed and about 10 troops or guards injured in the fighting.
The dailies Liberte and El Watan also reported the raid. The operation continued Saturday, said Samir Leslous, the Tizi Ouzou correspondent for Liberte. He said by telephone that heavy bombardments by helicopters and mortars could be heard in the past few days.
An AP reporter saw army and police columns advancing on the forest near Tizi Ouzou on Thursday, some in armored vehicles equipped with funnels to remove bombs and secure booby-trapped paths.
Closer to the capital, one suspected terrorist was killed in a separate sweep Thursday near Boumerdes, 60 kilometers (nearly 40 miles) ) east of Algiers, the government-run APS news agency reported. The sweep came after militants killed the police chief in Boumerdes last week.
An official in Boumerdes, speaking on conditions of anonymity because of regulations, confirmed that four other militants were found dead around Boumerdes this week. The El Watan daily said two of the dead suspects were killed by the army and two others were found beheaded.
The newspaper cited unnamed officials as saying that terror chiefs have been known to behead militants they suspect of wanting to surrender.
Al-Qaida’s Algerian offshoot sprung from a leftover militant group from the 1990s, when an insurgency between Islamists and security forces was at its height. Up to an estimated 200,000 people have been killed in violence since 1992. The group officially joined al-Qaida in 2006, stepping up suicide bombings and attacks. But it is vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the 200,000-strong Algerian police forces, and the military, which have stepped up efforts to reduce insurgent pockets.