Twin bomb blasts kill 52 in Algiers
Two car bomb attacks rocked the Algerian capital - one targetting the UN refugee agency
ALGIERS, December 11, 2007 - Two car bomb attacks -- one targetting the UN refugee agency -- rocked the Algerian capital on Tuesday, killing at least 52 people, hospital sources and officials said.
One bomb ripped through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) building. Several foreigners were reported among the casualties. A second bomb blew apart a bus packed with university students outside the Supreme Court.
Algeria has been hit by a number of bomb attacks this year -- in which scores of people have been killed -- and most have been claimed by Al-Qaeda.
Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said a suicide bomber triggered the explosion outside the UNHCR office.
The front of the building was devastated and the UNHCR said staff were among the casualties. Rescuers struggled to reach people believed to be trapped inside the partially collapsed structure.
In a near-simultaneous attack, a car bomb was detonated outside the Supreme Court as a bus packed with university students passed by, heading for a nearby law faculty.
Security sources said the bus took the full force of the blast and most of the dead and injured there were students.
"The death toll is very high," the minister told reporters without giving a figure.
Hospital sources said 52 people were killed in the two attacks but did not give a breakdown. They added that several foreigners were among the seriously injured.
The UNHCR office is in the Hydra residential district where the finance and energy ministries and several diplomatic residences are also located.
There were "victims in the offices," Jennifer Pagonis, a UNHCR spokeswoman at the agency headquarters in Geneva, told AFP. She said no figures were available.
Hydra is normally under tight police surveillance because of the number of foreigners who live there.
Ambulances with sirens wailing rushed to the two sites where columns of black smoke rose from wreckage.
Security forces threw up road blocks around the city and the interior minister spoke to reporters after visiting the scene.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts, which were swiftly condemned by former colonial power France and the European Union.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who made a state visit to Algeria last week, denounced what he described as these "barbaric, hateful and deeply cowardly acts."
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner expressed shock at such "heinous" acts of violence and urged swift justice for those responsible.
Al-Qaeda's offshoot in north Africa said it carried out a series of bomb attacks in Algiers and other parts of the country this year which have left more than 100 dead.
There has however been a relative calm in Islamist-inspired violence since September. The four dead recorded in an AFP toll for November was the lowest monthly figure since Algeria's Islamist strife erupted in 1992.
More than 100,000 people died in Algeria during a civil war in the 1990s.
On September 6, a suicide attack targeting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's convoy in the eastern town of Batna killed 22 people and wounded more than 100
Two days later, another suicide attack against a coastguard barracks at Dellys, east of Algiers, left 30 people dead and 40 wounded.
A suicide bomber rammed a booby-trapped car into a convoy east of Algiers on September 21, wounding two French engineers and an Italian.
In July, 10 soldiers were killed and 35 people wounded when a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives into barracks in Lakhdaria, an Islamist stronghold.
In April, car bomb attacks on the government headquarters and a police station in Algiers killed 33 people and injured more than 220. In February, seven simultaneous bomb attacks killed six people in the Kabylie region.
All the attacks were claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, the new name for the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which has pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden and has started using Al-Qaeda's suicide bomber tactics.
The head of Algeria's army chiefs of staff, General Salah Gaid, called in October for a crackdown on the militants, and police have started using more road blocks in major cities and a greater use of informers in a bid to single out potential suicide bombers and their backers.
by Hassen Zenati