ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) – Al-Qaeda’s North African branch claimed to have killed at least 130 people in Algeria in a spate of attacks this month, nearly twice the official death toll, said a statement carried on a Web site frequently used by militants.
The group described the attacks targeting a police academy, a military barracks and a Canadian engineering company this week as its retaliation against security forces for their recent crackdown on militants.
The militant group also denied Algerian government claims that it was targeting the general population, insisting that it only hit security forces, which it accused of being apostates, or traitors to Islam.
The bombings “killed more than 130 apostates, wounded more than 100, and destroyed three barracks and several vehicles,” the militant group said in a statement carried late Friday on a Web site often used by militants.
The statement could not be verified independently, but also was quoted by the U.S.-based SITE group, which monitors extremist messages. In addition, it was similar to a statement issued by an al-Qaeda spokesman on the Arab TV station Al-Jazeera.
Official tallies show that up to 60 people were killed in the attacks carried out in less than 24 hours this week.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosives into a line of applicants waiting to register at a police academy, killing at least 43 in the town of Les Issers, some 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of the capital, Algiers.
At dawn the next day, twin car bombs targeted a military headquarters and a passenger bus in the neighboring town of Bouira, 55 miles (90 kilometers) southeast of Algiers. The 12 killed in Bouira were employees of a Canadian engineering company, SNC-Lavalin.
Security and hospital officials say another five people have since died of their injuries from the attacks. This raises to at least 70 the number of people killed in the six large-scale attacks that took place in August. Still, the official death toll remains much lower than the figures advanced by al-Qaeda’s statements, which also were based on claims that militants killed many more people than officially acknowledged.
Authorities insist terrorists indiscriminately target the Algerian population, and often avoid updating official casualty tolls, especially for slain government forces.
Al-Qaeda’s statement vehemently denied “that we are targeting our brothers,” and claimed that officials are trying to hide the extent of their attacks. Despite the new attacks, several government ministers repeated this week that the extremists are on the run, hiding in the bush, and cornered by security forces. The government and militant groups have been battling for the hearts and minds of Algerians after an insurgency killed up to 200,000 people in the 1990s.
At the time, violence broke out when the secular-leaning army canceled elections that an Islamist party was expected to win.
Though atrocities were committed on both sides, Islamic militant groups eventually lost the support of the population because they were blamed for widespread massacres.
Algeria’s present al-Qaeda offshoot is known as Al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa. It grew out of the GSPC, the last extremist group left from the insurgency, which joined Osama bin Laden’s network in September 2006.
Violence has steadily risen since then in this North African country of 34 million people.