/ 8 October 2007

Algerian anti-terrorist sweep leaves 29 dead

An Algerian army operation against a group suspected of links to al-Qaeda has left 22 militants and seven soldiers dead in recent days, the daily Liberte reported on Monday.

Security officials would not immediately comment on the sweep, which reportedly targeted the region of Tebessa, 650km east of the capital, Algiers.

Liberte said anti-terrorist forces launched an operation last Thursday in the region, based on information from 11 suspects arrested last week and believed tied to a suicide bombing that targeted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s convoy on September 6. That bombing left at least 22 dead, and was claimed by a group called al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa.

For about a month, about 20 fighters believed involved with the al-Qaeda affiliate have been hiding out in the forests in the Tebassa region, Liberte said.

The report said the sweep killed 22 Islamic militants and that seven soldiers were killed when a homemade bomb exploded.

Algeria has seen a revival of violence in recent months after a period of relative quiet in a brutal insurgency that ripped the country apart in the 1990s and has left as many as 200 000 dead.

Isolated hard-line Islamic groups have now aligned with al-Qaeda to recover ground, delivering a string of setbacks this year to government efforts to bring calm and prosperity to this oil- and gas-rich country.

Since this summer, the army has repeatedly bombed and burned forests believed to harbour rebels. — Sapa-AP