A twin car bomb strike rocked Algiers on Tuesday killing at least 62 people and devastating a United Nations office where staff were trapped for hours after the blasts, hospital officials said.
It was the worst of a series of bombings in the capital and other major Algerian cities this year. All the past attacks were claimed by al-Qaeda.
One bomb ripped through the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and neighbouring UN Development Programme (UNDP) and 10 Algerian staff of the world body were among the dead, a senior UN official said. Foreigners were among the injured, hospital sources added.
A second bomb blew apart a passing bus packed with university students outside the Supreme Court.
Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said a suicide bomber triggered the explosion outside the UN offices.
The front of the building was devastated, and several hours after the blast rescuers were still struggling to reach people trapped inside the structure, many badly injured.
“It was like an earthquake,” said Ameur Rekhaila, a lawyer who was on the second floor of the building when the bomb went off at about 8.30am GMT.
In a near-simultaneous attack, a car bomb was detonated outside the Supreme Court as a bus packed with university students passed by, heading for a nearby law faculty.
Security sources said the bus took the full force of the blast and most of the dead and injured were students.
Hospital sources said 62 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the two attacks but did not give a breakdown. They added that several foreigners were among the seriously injured.
The UN office is in the Hydra residential district where the finance and energy ministries and several diplomatic residences are also located.
Hydra is normally under tight police surveillance because of the number of foreigners who live there.
Security forces threw up road blocks around the city. Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkahdem called off a planned Cabinet meeting to go to hospitals where injured were being treated.
“These are crimes that targeted innocent people. Students and school children were among the victims. Nothing can justify crime,” he said at one hospital.
There was also condemnation abroad.
The United States called the attacks an act of “senseless violence”.
“We condemn this attack on the United Nations office by these enemies of humanity who attack the innocent,” said a White House statement.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who made a state visit to Algeria last week, denounced what he described as these “barbaric, hateful and deeply cowardly acts”.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner expressed shock at such “heinous” acts of violence.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry called the double bombing “a cowardly terrorist act”. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also condemned the attacks.
Al-Qaeda’s offshoot in North Africa has admitted responsibility for a series of bomb attacks in Algiers and other parts of the country this year, which have left more than 100 dead.
There has, however, been a relative calm in Islamist-inspired violence since September. The four dead recorded in an Agence France-Presse toll for November was the lowest monthly figure since Algeria’s Islamist strife erupted in 1992.
More than 100 000 people died in Algeria during a civil war in the 1990s.
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 coastguard barracks at Dellys, east of Algiers, left 30 people dead and 40 wounded.
A suicide bomber rammed a booby-trapped car into a convoy east of Algiers on September 21, wounding two French engineers and an Italian.
In July, 10 soldiers were killed and 35 people wounded when a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into barracks in Lakhdaria, an Islamist stronghold.
In April, car bomb attacks on the government headquarters and a police station in Algiers killed 33 people and injured more than 220. In February, seven simultaneous bomb attacks killed six people in the Kabylie region.
All the attacks were claimed by al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, the new name for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and has started using al-Qaeda’s suicide bomber tactics. — AFP