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Saturday, 8 September 2007

Al-Qaeda suspected behind Suicide attack in Algeria

Algeria suicide attack aimed at president kills 15

Mr Bagel: Despite Radical Islamists in Algeria being offered a presidential pardon, some of the most hard line militants have refused to surrender. In a direct attack on Algeria's political institutions they have upped a campaign to turn Algeria into a Sharia state.

With Algeria being on the doorstep of Europe, Islamist insurgency in Algeria presents a troubling increasing security risk for Europe.

With Algeria's neighbor Morocco holding general elections on Friday, the chances for more terrorist strikes seems ever more likely.

ALGIERS -- A suicide bomber killed 15 people and injured 74 in an assassination attempt in eastern Algeria against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, national television reported.

Bouteflika appeared on television just after the bomb attack near a mosque in the city of Batna to denounce the attackers as "criminals" and vow to pursue his national reconciliation policy.

The North African nation is still recovering from a civil war in the 1990s that left more than 150,000 dead.

The suicide bomber struck only five months after attacks claimed by Al-Qaeda's offshoot in North Africa which killed at least 43 people and injured scores.

The attacker was part of a crowd awaiting a visit by the president in the centre of Batna. Witnesses quoted by national television said the bomb was hidden in a plastic bag.

The attacker was discovered by the crowd and set off the bomb before the president arrived, the report said. Panic set into the crowd after the explosion.

Authorities did not immediately confirm whether the suicide bomber was among the dead. No details were given immediately about the identity of the attacker.

It was the closest that a militant attack has come to the president.

Bouteflika was immediately informed and immediately visited survivors of the attack at the main hospital in Batna. He later went to the scene of the explosion where supporters were waiting.

In an appearance on television, Bouteflika condemned the perpetrators as "criminals."

"I will not for a single moment renounce the political project built on national reconciliation and security for all Algerians," he said.

Under Bouteflika's policy, a presidential pardon is offered to Islamist militants who surrender. About 2,000 Islamists have been freed from prison and the authorities say about 300 militants have given themselves up.

Just before the attack, Bouteflika had spoken to a group of veterans from the war of independence against France's colonial forces.

He said that "national reconciliation was a strategic choice for the Algerian people, an irreversible choice."

The president also stressed that such attacks by militants "have absolutely nothing in common with the noble values of Islam."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the bombing as "barbaric and senseless violence."

He assured Bouteflika of the "full solidarity of France and my unswerving support in your fight against terrorism."

Algerian authorities have recently hardened their condemnation of armed Islamists who refuse to join the programme. "They should give themselves up or perish," Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said recently.

In April, two car bomb attacks near the presidential palace in Algiers and against a police station in the capital killed 33 people and injured more than 220.

And in July, 10 soldiers were killed and 35 people wounded when a suicide bomber rammed a truck packed with explosives into barracks at Lakhdaria, 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Algiers.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and renamed itself the Al-Qaeda Movement in the Maghreb, claimed responsibility for those attacks.

The attacks in Algeria, together with bombings in neighbouring Morocco, have revived Western fears of Islamist militants gaining a toehold in North Africa from which to launch attacks in Europe and beyond.

Morocco holds a general election on Friday in which the main Islamist group is expected to become the biggest single party.

The blasts in Algeria have also raised a spectre of the return to the violence of the 1990s, that pitted the authorities against the hardline Armed Islamic Groups (GIA).

The murderous conflict was touched off by the cancellation of multi-party elections in 1992 that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had won.