/ 21 September 2007

Suicide bomber rams car into Algerian convoy

A suicide bomber rammed a booby-trapped car into a convoy in Algeria on Friday, wounding two French engineers and an Italian, in an attack only hours after al-Qaeda called for an offensive against French targets.

Six Algerians, five of them police, were also injured in the attack near the town of Lakhdaria, about 75km south-east of Algiers, where the North African offshoot of al-Qaeda has claimed previous attacks.

Scores have died in bomb attacks claimed by al-Qaeda across the country this year.

The two French, who worked for construction firm Razel, and the Italian were in a car being escorted by police when the explosive-laden vehicle slammed into the convoy, according to European diplomatic sources and witnesses. It was not immediately known if the suicide bomber died.

The Italian was the most seriously injured among the casualties, according to diplomats in Algiers.

A spokesperson for Razel, based outside Paris, said the two French men, the Italian and an Algerian driver injured in the attack had been taken to hospital in Algiers and were ”out of danger”.

On Thursday, al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a video message to calling for the ”cleansing” of French and Spaniards from North Africa as a first step in restoring the Iberian peninsula to the Islamic world.

Al-Qaeda has stepped up operations in North Africa through its Algerian offshoot, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which has been renamed al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.

Earlier this week, two French nationals working in Algiers flew home after Algerian intelligence agencies picked up reports of an alleged plot to abduct them involving an al-Qaeda-linked group, French sources said.

The two men worked for the airport-management company Aeroports de Paris (ADP), and were told to return immediately after French intelligence received a tip-off from its Algerian counterpart. Algerian agents had specific information about ”threats of an abduction” targeting the two airport employees from a ”terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda”, said the source.

Lakhdaria is in an Islamist stronghold. In July, 10 soldiers were killed and 35 people wounded when a suicide bomber rammed a truck full of explosives into barracks in the city.

Algeria was hit by two deadly attacks at the start of the month, claimed by the regional al-Qaeda branch, which killed more than 50 people and wounded more than 140 others.

On September 6, a suicide attack targeting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s convoy in the eastern town of Batna killed 22 people and wounded more than 100 others. Two days later, another suicide attack against a coast-guard barracks at Dellys east of Algiers, involving a booby-trapped car, left 30 people dead and 40 wounded.

In April, car-bomb attacks on the government headquarters and a police station in Algiers killed 33 people and injured more than 220.

During the civil war of the 1990s, about 30 French citizens were assassinated by Islamist groups who ordered all foreigners to leave the country. More than 100 000 people died in the conflict. — Sapa-AFP