Ambushes by Islamic militants kill 56 in Algeria

Monday, January 6, 2003

CAIRO An Islamic offensive against Algeria's military has resulted in the death of at least 56 people.

Algerian sources said the soldiers and civilians were killed in two separate attacks in the eastern part of the country. They said insurgents from the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call attacked infantry units in the governorate of Batna on late Saturday.

The sources said 43 soldiers were killed in the Salafist attack in Batna, a mountainous region located 400 kilometers southeast of the capital Algiers. The soldiers were described as an infantry unit from a civil defense force, Middle East Newsline reported.

The sources said Islamic insurgents detonated bombs placed along a road used by the military. There were no reports of Salafist casualties.

The second Islamic attack took place against civilians in Zabana, about 45 kilometers south of Algiers. The official Algerian news agency reported that the Armed Islamic Group killed 13 people from two families.

The Islamic attacks took place one day after a leading insurgent was killed by Algerian security forces. Ghamid Amin was said to have been a leading planner in a series of attacks by Islamic groups around Algeria during the summer of 2002.

About 1,100 people have been killed in the insurgency war in each of the last two years. More than 100,000 people have been killed since the war began in 1992.

The Salafist offensive has been termed as the bloodiest since the Islamic insurgency war began in Algeria in 1992. Algerian sources said the Salafists have been in close contact with Al Qaida over the past month in an effort to launch major attacks against both Western and Algerian targets.

Estimates of Salafist strength vary greatly. Western intelligence sources place the number of insurgents, headed by Hassan Khatab, at 4,500. But Algerian officials said the group contains no more than 500 people.

Algeria has asked the United States for a range of military equipment to help detect and target insurgents. The United States has approved several non-lethal systems but has not sent them to the North African state.

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