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Monday, March 05, 2007

Report: Algeria gun, mine attacks kill 9

ALGIERS, Algeria - Suspected Islamic militants attacked a police checkpoint in Algeria with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns Sunday, killing five officers and wounding three others, according to a newspaper report.

Separately, a bus hit two land mines west of the capital, triggering explosions that left three Algerians and a Russian dead, as well as five others wounded, authorities said.

Algeria's Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers, has faced a recent upsurge of violence, including seven car bombings on Feb. 13, by a group that claims ties to al-Qaida.

In Sunday's attack, assailants are said to have fired a grenade on a police sport utility vehicle at a key highway crossroads as officers were changing shifts, setting the vehicle ablaze, the daily Liberte reported.

A second SUV came under machine-gun fire, Liberte reported in an article to be published Monday, citing witness accounts.

Security forces dispatched reinforcements, prompting a two-hour fire fight. It was not immediately clear whether any of the assailants were detained or injured.

There was no independent verification of the attack.

The vehicle explosions occurred Saturday night near Ain Defla, 90 miles west of Algiers, El Khabar newspaper reported.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement from Moscow that a Russian and three Algerians had been killed, and that three others — a Russian and two Ukrainians — were wounded.

The victims worked for the Russian company Stroitransgaz, which is building a gas pipeline in the area, the ministry said. The Russian government said the bus was being accompanied by Algerian security officers, but it was unknown if any of them were caught in the explosions.

Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency said 21 people were on the bus heading back from the work site to their camp at the time.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack.

A similar attack targeting a bus carrying foreign employees of an affiliate of U.S. energy giant Halliburton near Algiers in December killed two Algerians and rattled many expatriates in the country, still recovering from an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s that killed at least 150,000.

A group that recently renamed itself Al-Qaida in North Africa, formerly known as the GSPC or Salafist Group for Call and Combat, claimed responsibility for that attack.

Renewed violence has surprised this North African country, which has steadily emerged from an Islamic insurgency that killed more than 150,000 people in the 1990s.

While scattered violence by the Salafists continues, carefully planned strikes are rare in Algeria, an ally in the U.S.-led "war on terror."
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