18 killed in Algeria suicide attack-hospital source

ALGIERS,  (Reuters) – Two suicide bombers hit a  military barracks in Algeria yesterday, killing 18 people in one  of the deadliest attacks in the North African country in recent  years.

The attackers arrived by motorbike near the entrance of the  barracks in Cherchell soon after iftar — when Muslims break  their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, a security  source said.

“Of the 18 dead, there are 16 servicemen and two civilians,”  a hospital source said.

The town of Cherchell, home to ancient Roman ruins, lies  just under 100 km (60 miles) west of the capital Algiers.

Algeria, an energy exporter in North Africa, is still  emerging from nearly two decades of conflict between security  forces and Islamist militant groups.

In the past few years the violence has been reduced  significantly, but the militants — who now operate as Al Qaeda  in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — still carry out ambushes,  kidnappings and occasional bombings.

One the last major attacks was in August 2008, when a bomb  attack targeting a paramilitary gendarmerie training school at  Issers, east of Algiers, killed 48. In June 2009, insurgents  killed 18 paramilitary police officers and one civilian,  according to officials, in an ambush.

Algeria has said it believes the chaos inside neighbouring  Libya, and large quantities of weapons circulating there, are  being exploited by AQIM, which has weapons, a safe heaven in the  Sahara desert and huge sums of money earned from kidnapping.

The location of Cherchell is unusual, as attacks have  usually occurred east of the capital such as in the mountainous  Kabylie region, where AQIM has a stronghold.

Algeria has taken a leading role in combating AQIM, in part  because the organisation is led by Algerian nationals and grew  out of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which fought  a long insurgency against Algeria’s security forces.

“Al Qaeda’s main target is the capital Algiers but it  failed to hit it, that is why it is operating around the  capital,” Sameur Riad, a security analyst at Algeria’s El Khabar  newspaper, said.

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