ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) – A 64-year-old cancer patient and another man, both of whom had been convicted on terror charges but amnestied, were the suicide bombers who struck U.N. and government buildings in Algeria this week, a security official said Thursday. The official death toll rose to 34.
The older man had been imprisoned in the 1990s and his 32-year-old fellow bomber had been recently released, the security official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The government has offered successive amnesties to try to end an Islamic insurgency that raged in the 1990s, resulting in thousands of militants turning themselves in, but sparking fierce criticism from the families of terror victims.
Al-Qaeda’s self-styled North African branch has claimed responsibility for the twin truck bombings Tuesday. Victims included U.N. staff from around the world, police officers and law students.
In a posting on a militant Web site, Al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa described the U.N. offices as “the headquarters of the international infidels’ den.” It also posted photos of two men it said were the bombers. Both posed with weapons and wore camouflage, with the younger man smiling.
The Algerian security official identified the bomber of the U.N. offices as Chebli Brahim, 64, and said he was in the advanced stages of cancer. Brahim had two sons who were also Islamic militants and were killed in crackdowns by Algeria’s army, the official said.
The other bomber was identified as Charef Larbi, a 32-year-old from a poor suburb of the capital that has produced many militants, the official said. He was arrested and sent to prison in 2004.
Upon Larbi’s release last year, he went into hiding with militants in Algeria’s scrubland, the official said. Algerian newspapers El Watan and L’Expression reported similar background details about the two bombers.
Islamic insurgents have been battling Algeria’s government for 15 years, but have largely focused on symbols of Algeria’s military-backed government and civilians. The strike against the U.N. office signaled a change in tactic.
The Interior Ministry on Thursday raised the death toll in the truck bombings to 34 from 31, saying in a statement that three more bodies had been found at the U.N. building. There has been confusion about the death toll for days: A national official at the civil protection agency said Wednesday that 45 people were killed, and soon after the bombings, a doctor said at least 60 were killed. The government has insisted it has no reason to conceal the full toll.
On Wednesday, seven survivors were pulled from beneath chunks of concrete, and one woman was transferred to a hospital where both her legs were amputated, said the chief of the emergency team, Djamal Khoudi.
The bombing of the U.N. building was the deadliest single attack against U.N. staff and facilities since August 2003, when the world body’s headquarters in Baghdad was hit by a truck laden with explosives. That attack killed 22 people, including the top U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and was blamed on a group that later affiliated with al-Qaeda.
The United Nations provided a list Wednesday of nine staffers confirmed to have died in Algiers, including six Algerians, one Senegalese, one Dane and one citizen of the Philippines.
The U.N. offices are in the upscale Hydra neighborhood of Algiers, which houses many foreign embassies. The U.S. and British embassies stepped up security warnings.
Algeria’s insurgency broke out in the early 1990s, when the army canceled the second round of the country’s first multiparty elections to prevent likely victory by an Islamic fundamentalist party. Islamist armed groups then turned to force to overthrow the government, with up to 200,000 people killed in the ensuing violence.
Until recently, the insurgency had been dying out, with militants’ ranks dwindling after military crackdowns and amnesty offers. But late last year, the main Algerian militant group changed its name to al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa and began waging larger-scale bombings, signs that Islamic fighters were regrouping.