43 killed in suicide attack at Algerian police academy

45 wounded in deadliest terror attack since 1990s in the North African country.

iraq car bomb 88 (photo credit: )
iraq car bomb 88
(photo credit: )
A suicide car bomber rammed into an Algerian police academy as applicants lined up to register for classes Tuesday, killing at least 43 people and wounding 45, officials said. The bombing in the town of Les Issers in the Boumerdes region, 60 kilometers east of the capital, Algiers, was the deadliest attack since the 1990s in the North African country. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but the country's al-Qaida affiliate has said it was behind a series of bombings in the past two years. The Interior Ministry said the casualty figures were a "preliminary estimate," the state-run APS news agency reported. The blast ripped off parts of the police academy's roof, and damaged much of its facade and nearby buildings. APS photos showed covered bodies on the ground amid the rubble. A resident of Les Issers, a a shopkeeper who only identified himself as Mohammed, said he was awakened by the blast. "It made a huge noise, my windows shook," he said, adding the explosion left a 1-meter deep crater in the road outside the police academy. A security official at the school told The Associated Press that the attack occurred as young applicants were in line, waiting to register at the local police academy. The academy was vulnerable because of the crowd of applicants at its gate, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media. The ministry said 42 of the dead and 32 of the people injured in the attack were civilians, while one police officer was killed and 13 were wounded, APS reported. Most of the civilian victims appeared to be young applicants waiting in line, though some people driving by in their cars were also hit by the blast. Witnesses also said all roads within three kilometers of Les Issers were blocked and cell phone networks were scrambled as police closed off the area. The European Union said it "very firmly condemns the terrorist acts that have just claimed so many lives." The Algerian people are "once again victims of blind and barbaric terrorist violence," said a statement issued by France, the current president of the 27-nation bloc. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon phoned his Algerian counterpart to assure him "of the support of France in the fight against terrorism." Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also pledged his support for Algeria's leadership. Tuesday's attack was the deadliest in years, according to official death toll figures. Most attacks have targeted the Algerian national security services and military, while others have struck foreigners. In December, a double suicide bombing in Algiers killed 41 people, including 17 UN workers. In April 2007, coordinated suicide strikes against the main government offices in central Algiers and a police station killed 33. Several newspapers, meanwhile, reported on an ambush by similar suspected Islamist militants that killed 12 people Sunday. The ambush in the Skikda locality, 500 kilometers east of Algiers, had apparently targeted the military commander of the region and his police escort, the reports said. The Al Watan newspaper, usually well informed on terrorism cases, reported the case Tuesday along with several other dailies. Authorities did not immediately comment on the attack. The newspapers said eight police officers, three soldiers and one civilian were killed when the militants, suspected to belong to a local branch of al-Qaida, opened fire on the convoy after setting off several road mines. They then beheaded all the victims and stole their uniforms along with a dozen automatic riffles, the reports said. In a similar attack three days earlier, militants killed the military chief for the Jijel area, also east of Algiers, local media reported. Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, formerly known as the GSPC, grew out of an insurgency in the 1990s, which left as many as 200,000 dead. Violence strongly diminished in Algeria in the early part of this decade, but attacks increased again after the GSPC affirmed allegiance to al-Qaida in 2006.