ALGIERS (Reuters) – Bombs killed 30 people in Algeria’s capital on Wednesday, attacks claimed by al Qaeda that raised fears the north African oil exporter was slipping back into the intense political violence of the 1990s.
One of the blasts, believed to be a suicide bombing, ripped part of the facade off the prime minister’s headquarters in the centre of Algiers. A second bomb hit Bab Ezzouar on its eastern outskirts, the official APS news agency said.
The Al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the bombings in an Internet statement, which also included a claim of responsibility for attacks in neighboring Morocco and pictures of three “martyrs.”
The claim could not be immediately verified but the group, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), has taken responsibility for a number of deadly attacks on security forces and foreigners in Algeria since January.
Hospital sources put the toll from the two bombings at 30. Earlier, APS put the toll at 23 dead with 162 wounded.
Leila Aissaoui, 25, stood crying near the government palace.
“I thought explosions in Algiers were over,” she said. “I made a big mistake and I can’t accept this.”
Residents said Wednesday was the first time since the 1990s that a powerful bomb targeted the centre of the Mediterranean city where police had stepped up security following a rise in attacks by insurgents in the countryside.
The blast at the prime minister’s headquarters gouged a gaping hole in the six-story building, shattering windows and showering rubble on to cars for blocks around.
Police sources said the attack was a suicide bombing.
One Algerian analyst said the operation appeared to be a reply to stepped-up attacks by the army on Islamist insurgents in the Bejaia region in mountains east of Algiers.
The former GSPC has been increasingly active over the past year. It seems more likely that this attack was in the works for quite a while, rather than only in response to something recent.
“This is a violent reaction to Bejaia operation where important leaders of al Qaeda in the Maghreb are surrounded,” said security expert Anis Rahmani.
“I do believe though, that that group has no capability to topple the government but obviously it has the means to disturb the life of peaceful people in Algiers.”