“Human bomb” tactic poses test for Algeria security
ALGIERS, Sept 7 (Reuters) – A suicide bombing in Algeria that killed 19 people marked two worrying developments for the energy exporting country’s bid to end attacks by armed groups seeking a purist Islamic state.
The blast was the first time a suicide attacker in Algeria has detonated a bomb strapped to his body, rather than using a car bomb, Algerians say.
The attack was also the first apparently timed to coincide with a visit by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The bomber blew himself up in a crowd waiting to greet Bouteflika in the town of Batna 430 km (270 miles) southeast of the capital Algiers shortly before the president arrived.
At the very least the timing of the blast suggests the town was selected for attack for maximum publicity. At worst, it may have been an assassination attempt, analysts say.
“I am not surprised by the attack. But what surprises me is that al Qaeda is using a human bomb for the first time (in Algeria),” said Liess Boukra, a top Algerian security expert.
“This is a real concern. Facing human bomb attacks is not easy to counter.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but rebels grouped in the so-called al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb have said they carried out previous suicide bombings.
“A suspect person in the crowd tried to get through the security cordon. Pushed back by an agent of the security forces, this person ran off. Immediately afterwards the explosion took place,” Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said.
Bouteflika was quick to blame the rebels, denouncing them as “criminals” trying to scuttle national reconciliation, a government policy aimed at ending 15 years of fighting between the army and Islamist groups trying to overthrow the state.
Under the policy Bouteflika had offered several amnesties under which thousands of rebels have surrendered, leading to a steady reduction in political violence in recent years.
A recent high-profile surrender was of Benmessaoud Abdelkader, a former al Qaeda commander in the Saharan south who said others had also quit because they disagreed with a spate of suicide car bomb attacks earlier in 2007.
He said the blasts, the first time Algerian rebels have used suicide car bombs as a military tactic, displeased many of the guerrillas because they had resulted in civilian deaths.
Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for triple suicide bombings in Algiers on April 11 that killed 33 people, and for a July 11 suicide truck blast east of Algiers that killed eight soldiers.
But despite the reports of rebel disagreements on the wisdom of suicide attacks, a hard core of several hundred rebels continues to fight, most notably in mountains east of Algiers.
Analysts said the rebels remained a lingering threat.
“Bouteflika was targeted since he is the symbol of national reconciliation, a policy that succeeded in significantly weakening the armed groups, particularly al Qaeda,” editor of Eshorouk daily and security analyst Anis Rahmani said.
“I am predicting more big attacks. Al Qaeda will do whatever possible to punish the Algerian people, who continue to support Bouteflika’s amnesty offer to end the conflict,” Rahmani said.
Conflict broke out in Algeria in 1992 after army-backed authorities scrapped parliamentary polls an Islamist party was set to win. The authorities had feared an Islamic revolution. Up to 200,000 people have been killed in 15 years of violence.
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