A suicide bomber detonated explosives at an Algerian military barracks on Wednesday, killing himself and about eight other people in the restive Kabylie region east of Algiers, residents said.
The blast 120km east of the capital was one of the worst rebel attacks in months and happened hours before the opening in Algiers of the All Africa Games, a prestigious sports event regarded as Africa’s Olympics which Algeria is hosting.
The 5.30am GMT bomb in Lakhdaria village near Bouira town went off a day after a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, making his first visit outside Europe since his election in May.
”I heard a terrible explosion,” said the owner of a coffee shop in Lakhdaria, a settlement surrounded by forested mountains that have long served as a hideouts for Islamist rebels.
”I first thought it was an earthquake but soon I found out it was an attack against the barracks.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which residents said killed eight people and wounded about 30.
An al-Qaeda-aligned rebel group previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) has claimed responsibility for such attacks in recent months, including a triple suicide bombing in Algiers on April 11 that killed 33 people.
Up to 200 000 people have been killed in political bloodshed in Algeria since 1992 when supporters of a now-outlawed Muslim fundamentalist party that was poised to win elections that year subsequently launched an armed rebellion against the state.
The violence has subsided in recent years amid successive government offers of amnesty to the rebels, but sputters on mainly in Kabylie and nearby areas.
In one recent incident, a bomb exploded on July 5 near a car carrying the governor of Kabylie’s Tizi Ouzou region in the first apparent assassination attempt in years against a top local government official.
A policeman was wounded but the governor, or wali, Hocine Mazouz, was unharmed.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika asked the army last week to step up attacks on Islamist rebels, saying they were ”enemies of the people”.
Dozens of Islamist guerrillas remain at large in Kabylie, shielded by criminal and family links and the remoteness of the area. The region is also a bastion of Algeria’s Berber speakers, who have long had tense ties with the authorities, protesting at what they see as discrimination by the Arab majority.
Security expert Anis Rahmani said the attack, which occurred three months to the day after the April 11 blasts, appeared to show that al-Qaeda was now firmly set on using suicide bombers.
The April 11 blasts were the first intended suicide bomb attacks since Algeria’s violence began in 1992, journalists say.
”The suicide attack was expected, particularly after the security services succeeded in preventing any [suicide attacks] in the intervening 90 days,” said Rahmani, who also edits Echorouk newspaper.
”The attack shows also that al-Qaeda has definitely decided to use suicide bombing as a tool in its fight in the Muslim country of Algeria.” – Reuters