/ 12 December 2007

Frantic search for Algiers bomb survivors

Rescuers on Wednesday kept up the search for survivors of two al-Qaeda bomb attacks as grieving families started funerals for dozens of victims.

The United Nations said 11 of its staff were killed by one of the suicide bombers and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has ordered a worldwide security review after the latest attack on a UN target.

With death tolls ranging from 30 stated by the government to 72 given by leading newspaper al-Watan, seven people were pulled alive from the debris of the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other UN agencies.

The second attack killed and maimed students packed in a bus as it passed a car that was detonated outside the Supreme Court in central Algiers.

While the first fatalities were being buried on Wednesday, families remained outside the wrecked UN offices as rescuers with sniffer dogs kept up their search for survivors.

The seventh person found, a 40-year-old woman, was dragged out in the early hours of Wednesday. She was taken to a military hospital where surgeons were to amputate her two legs, medical officials said.

She told rescuers there was a least one other person still trapped in the tangle of concrete and iron.

Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told French radio that there were now 30 dead, including five foreigners, and 28 people still in hospital. Hospital sources told Agence France-Presse there were 62 dead and about 100 injured.

al-Watan newspaper cited medical sources who put the number of dead at 72.

The United Nations said at least 11 of its staff were killed and several were still unaccounted for.

Three of the UN victims were foreigners. The World Food Programme named one of the dead as a Philippine national, Gene Luna (48), who had only taken up her post in Algiers one week ago.

The WFP said in a statement that far more people would have been hurt but most of the staff had been outside the office on a training course when the blast occurred.

UN chief Ban led international condemnation of the attacks and vowed to protect UN staff.

”We will take every measure to ensure their safety, in Algeria and elsewhere, beginning with an immediate review of our security precautions and policies,” he said.

”Words cannot express my sense of shock, outrage and anger at the terrorist attack on the UN mission in Algiers,” Ban said in a statement.

The Algiers attacks were the worst on UN facilities since the August 19 2003 truck-bomb attack on the UN office in Baghdad, which killed 22 people, including special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Al-Qaeda’s Branch in the Islamic Maghreb (BAQMI) claimed responsibility for the bombs in a statement published on an Islamist website, the authenticity of which could not be immediately confirmed.

The group hailed the ”success of two martyr operations” in the statement and showed photographs of two suicide bombers, named as Abdel Rahmane al-Assmi and Ammi Ibrahim Abou Othmane, both carrying assault rifles.

It was the latest of a series of bombings in the capital and other major Algerian cities this year that have killed more than 120 people. The al-Qaeda offshoot has claimed responsibility for all of them.

The group changed its name this year from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) and pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

On September 6, a suicide attack targeting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s convoy in Batna killed 22 people. Another suicide attack east of Algiers, left 30 dead and 40 wounded.

Bombs in the Algerian capital on April 11 killed 33 people.

The government has been engaged in a bloody conflict with Islamic radicals since soon after the army cancelled December 1991 elections won by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which was later banned.

FIS co-founder Ali Belhadj, in an interview published on Wednesday in the Spanish daily El Mundo, urged Algerian authorities to look into the demands of Islamic movements following Tuesday’s attacks. — AFP