Two bombings in Algiers kill 42

CAIRO, Egypt – Suspected Islamic militants struck the Algerian capital Wednesday morning, killing 24 people and injuring 222, a dramatic intensification of Islamic violence in a country still struggling to recover from a brutal years-long civil war.

One of the bombs targeted the main government building in Algiers, a modern office tower called the Government Palace, killing at least 12 people and wounding 118, according to the nation’s official news agency. The building houses the offices of the prime minister.

The other attack struck at a police station east of the capital in the suburb of Bab Ezzouar, killing 12 and wounding 87, said the Algierie Presse Service, citing civil defense officials, who warned that the casualty figures could rise.

Wednesday’s attacks, the first major bombings in the battle-scarred Algerian capital for several years, come amid a recent swell of Islamic militant activity in North Africa.

Al-Jazeera television said a caller phoned the network and said the near-simultaneous attacks were the work of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or North Africa.

The man, who called himself Abu Mohammad Salah, vowed that al-Qaida would continue its operations “to liberate every acre of the lands of Islam … and liberate our men in prisons in Tunisia and Algeria,” Al-Jazeera reported.

Television footage showed clouds of smoke rising from devastated buildings.

One showed the side of a several-story building with its facade sheered off by a bombing and firemen hurrying to the scene of a blast.

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, unhurt in the attack, called it “a criminal and (cowardly) act” meant to destabilize the country at the same time that the secular government and Islamic militants are attempting to forge a peace.

“This criminal attack is perpetrated at the time when the Algerian people are seeking national reconciliation,” he said to the news agency.

The bombings came as the oil-rich North African country prepares for May 17 parliamentary elections.

Islamic militants and Algiers secular government have been pitted against each other since the late 1970s. The Algerian government fought against insurgents in a vicious civil war that has left more than 150,000 dead since 1992, when the army canceled elections that Islamic activists were about to win. The violence has dissipated in recent years, despite occasional bombings and assassinations.

The only remaining insurgent group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, joined up with the al-Qaida movement last year. The Algiers government recently launched attacks on the group’s suspected eastern Algerian strongholds near Kabylia.

“It is clear that for the past month or so there has been an increase in clashes between the security forces and the al-Qaida in Algeria in the Kabylia region, with the regime engaging in some very intense fighting,” said William Quandt, an Algeria specialist at the University of Virginia.

“So this could be a warning from the al-Qaida group to back off in Kabylia.”

In neighboring Morocco on Monday, four suspected Islamic militants and a police officer were killed during a confrontation in the city of Casablanca.

Al-Qaida opposes the region’s secular, pro-Western governments.

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