ALGIERS,(Reuters) – The United States embassy urged Americans in Algeria to check their personal security on Monday after a bus carrying foreign oil workers was bombed in the first attack on Western expatriates in many years.
A Warden Notice for the estimated 800 U.S. expatriates said the embassy in the oil- and gas-exporting north African nation would be open for normal business “but is encouraging Americans in Algiers to review their security situation. “The Embassy will limit movements on December 11 to official business only while evaluating the situation.”
An existing U.S. travel warning says there is a significant security risk in many areas of Algeria, Africa’s second largest country which is slowly pulling itself out of 14 years of conflict between Islamist rebels and government forces.
Sunday’s attack in the upmarket Bouchaoui district, 10 km (six miles) west of Algiers, killed the Algerian driver and wounded nine people, including four Britons and an American, authorities said.
Some expatriate oil executives said they would step up security as a result of the late afternoon attack.
Residents said the bus was ferrying employees of Brown Root Condor, a joint venture of Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Root (KBR) and Condor Engineering, an affiliate of Algerian state energy group Sonatrach. The authorities were working on two hypotheses. “If it is terrorism, that would indicate that the affiliate of Halliburton has been targeted for its role in Iraq. It has been seen as a firm that has hoarded Iraqi riches,” a security source said. “If it is criminality, that would mean that the local mafia wants to block the opening of the economy and economic transparency. This mafia wants the status quo and to preserve monopoly situations.”
The government is trying to modernise the country’s Soviet-style command economy, long dominated by loss-making state banks notorious for mismanagement, graft and inefficiency.
A KBR statement said: “KBR can confirm that a bus carrying employees of Brown & Root Condor (BRC), a joint venture between KBR and Sonatrach, was attacked in Algiers, Algeria, on Sunday, Dec. 10 at approximately 4:45 p.m. local time. “KBR’s top priority remains the safety and security of our employees around the world. For this reason, we will not detail the measures undertaken to safeguard company personnel.”
The bombing took place in a heavily protected neighbourhood that is home to some government ministers as well as the Sheraton Hotel, where several foreign firms have their offices.
Some residents spoke of a gunman who got out of a car parked at the kerb and opened fire at the bus as it approached.
Sporadic clashes between Islamist guerrillas and security forces normally take place in isolated rural areas.
On Oct. 30, three people were killed and 24 wounded in near-simultaneous truck bomb attacks on two police stations in what witnesses called the most elaborate assault by Islamist rebels in several years.
Islamists began an armed revolt in 1992 after the then military-backed authorities, fearing an Iran-style revolution, scrapped a parliamentary election that an Islamist political party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was set to win. Up to 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing bloodshed. The violence has sharply subsided in the past few years.
The biggest foreign operator is U.S. Anadarko Petroleum Corp and the biggest foreign investor is Britain’s BP. Other investors include Royal Dutch Shell BHP Billiton, ENI, Hess Corp and Repsol.