Algerian elite forces hit hard by Al-Qaida-backed militants

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

CAIRO Algeria's elite forces sustained heavy losses in an Islamic insurgency attack said to have been aided by Al Qaida.

The attack on late Saturday killed 43 Algerian soldiers. Algerian newspapers said 39 of the casualties were members of an elite paratrooper unit.

Algerian sources said the unit attacked by Islamic insurgents over the weekend was comprised of elite commandos. Earlier, the sources said the Algerian unit caught in an ambush consisted of militia forces, Middle East Newsline reported.

The attack in the governorate of Batna was attributed to the Salafist Brigade for Combat and Call, a group aligned with Al Qaida. Algerian sources said Al Qaida is believed to have trained a 10-member Salafist squad to carry out the ambush 430 kilometers east of Algiers.

The Salafist attack killed 43 Algerian soldiers. Another four soldiers were members of the civil guard militia.

The Islamic insurgents used roadside bombs in the ambush against an Algerian military convoy. The sources said the Salafist attackers killed virtually the entire Algerian force and seized the weapons from the dead soldiers.

Algerian sources said Al Qaida provided training and support for the attack after the military killed a key member of the movement led by Osama Bin Laden in September. They said Imad Abdul Wahid Ahmed Alwan, a Yemeni national and head of Al Qaida's North African operations, was killed by Algerian troops on Sept. 12 in the Batna region.

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