DELLYS, Algeria, (Reuters) – A suicide truck bomber destroyed a coastguards barracks in Algeria on Saturday, killing 22 people, residents and hospital sources said, in the second such attack in the OPEC member country in as many days.
The blast in the port of Dellys 100 km (62 miles) east of Algiers happened less than 48 hours after a suicide bombing in Batna town killed 20 people in an attack seen by the government as a bid to wreck efforts to end 15 years of political violence. “I heard a big blast at about 8 this morning and I found out that it targeted the port of the city,” resident Saeed Hamdaoui, 28, said. “Then we heard ambulances.” There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but the so-called al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb has said it carried out previous such blasts.
North African countries have recently 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 video broadcast on the Internet in July. He said there was no single recipe for change but that “force must be an element in the pursuit of change,” whether through a military coup, a popular uprising or civil disobedience against corrupt governments.
Witnesses said the Dellys explosion wrecked the wooden barracks, damaged several neighbouring houses and sent shockwaves that shattered window panes in nearby streets.
Soldiers armed with automatic rifles sealed off the immediate vicinity after the attack.
Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem condemned the blast and said such attacks aimed at wrecking peace efforts in Algeria and thereby targeted all Algerians.
Former colonial power France also deplored the attack.
The foreign ministry said France sent “the most sincere condolences to the families of the victims, to those close to them and to the Algerian authorities and the Algerian people, plunged into mourning by this new expression of terrorism.”
Conflict broke out in Algeria in 1992 after military-backed authorities scrapped elections that an Islamist party was set to win. The authorities had feared an Islamic revolution. Up to 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed.
The bomber in Batna blew himself up among a crowd of people waiting to see President Abdelaziz Bouteflika make a scheduled visit to the town 430 km (270 miles) southeast of Algiers.
It was the first time a suicide attacker in Algeria had detonated a bomb strapped to his body, rather than using a car bomb, Algerians say.
Bouteflika blamed rebels for the Batna blast, saying they wanted to wreck his policy of national reconciliation.
The policy is aimed at ending 15 years of fighting between the army and groups trying to set up a purist Islamic state.
Political violence has subsided in recent years but a hard core of about 500 mostly al-Qaeda linked rebels continues to fight mainly in the Kabylie region east of the capital Algiers. The group claimed responsibility for triple suicide bombings in Algiers on April 11 that killed 33 people, and also for a July 11 suicide truck bombing that killed eight soldiers.