Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said on Sunday it had carried out a twin suicide attack on an Algerian military academy that killed 18 people including officers in training from Syria and Tunisia.
A brief statement emailed to Agence France-Presse in Morocco said AQIM “claims responsibility for the two martyr operations” on Friday which “targeted the heart of Algeria’s Cherchell military institution”, about 100km from the Algerian capital.
The authenticity of the statement, sent by a man identifying himself as “Salah Abou Mohamed, official in charge of information of the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb organisation” could not immediately be ascertained.
The text said another statement on “jihadist sites” would be published at a later date.
The two Syrians killed Friday were army lieutenants-colonel Ahmad Ahmad and Anouar Saad, said a diplomatic source who requested that his name be withheld.
They had arrived in Algeria on August 8 to follow a one-year training course at the academy that counts many foreigners among its students.
The bodies of the two Syrians should be repatriated later on Sunday, the diplomat said.
Tunisia announced on Saturday that one of its officers, major Bechir Ouerghi, was also killed in the attack.
The Algerian defense ministry had said 16 officers and two civilians were killed and 26 people wounded in Friday’s attack on the Cherchell military academy, west of Algiers.
El Watan newspaper said suicide bombers tried to cause as many casualties as possible by targeting the officers’ mess just as all soldiers had assembled to break the Ramadan fast.
The bombers, one on a motorcycle, reportedly set off explosions a few seconds apart in front of the entrance to the academy’s officers’ mess hall.
Ramadan is generally considered a good time for holy war, or jihad, by Islamist groups. Since the fast started in early August, there have been many attacks east of Algiers, especially in Kabylie, targeting the army and police.
Authorities in Algeria generally remain tight-lipped about such incidents which have not ended despite a policy of national reconciliation adopted in the early 2000s by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Most attacks are attributed to al-Qaeda’s North African offshoot, AQIM.
Under Algeria’s policy of national reconciliation many Islamist fighters have been offered pardons in exchange for laying down their arms.
Late on Tuesday two policemen and a soldier were killed in two separate attacks in the Bordj Bou Arreridj region, 220km southeast of the capital, and in Boumerdes, 50km east of Algiers.
The scene of Friday’s attack, the Cherchell Academy, was set up by France during World War II after the Allied landings in North Africa on November 8 1942. It remained an officers’ college after Algerian independence in 1962. — AFP