ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) “” Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility Sunday for the attack on a military academy in Algeria that killed at least 18 people including 16 officers in training.
Al-Qaida’s North African wing said in a statement posted online that two suicide bombers carried out Friday’s attack on the Cherchell military academy, 110 miles (180 kilometers) west of the capital, Algiers.
The defense ministry says the attack killed 16 officers and two civilians, and wounded 26 others. AQIM says it killed 36 officers and wounded 35.
AQMI called the attack “the Eid gift for the Algerian families of the martyrs and the prisoners.” Friday was the 27th day of the holy month of Ramadan, a sacred day in the Muslim calendar when the devout say that their prayers go directly to God.
The three-day holiday Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan this week. Traditionally, children get new clothes, shoes, haircuts and toys for the holiday.
The attacks began Friday evening when a bomb exploded just outside the military academy. Soldiers dining at a restaurant “” which was within the base but near its perimeter “” raced from their tables to see what had happened, according to security officials.
As a crowd gathered, a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body drove his motorcycle at them, the officials said. The city was sealed off after the attack and the army chief of staff, Gen. Gaid Salah, arrived by helicopter shortly after to survey the scene.
Islamist extremists have battled Algerian security forces since 1992 when the army canceled a national election that a now-banned Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win. Security forces gained the upper hand over the years, but sporadic attacks continue and increased dramatically in July. An estimated 200,000 people “” civilians, insurgents and security forces “” have been killed since the violence began.