ALGIERS: Algeria’s army was hunting on Monday for an armed militant group linked to an attack in the rugged Kabylie region in which 11 soldiers were killed, a security official said.
Gunmen ambushed an army convoy carrying soldiers back to their barracks late on Saturday in Iboudrarene, in the restive mountainous region, a bastion of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), with three assailants also killed in the deadliest attack on the Algerian military in years.
According to residents of villages around Iboudrarene contacted by telephone, artillery fire could be heard in the surrounding mountains on Monday. “The armed forces, including paratroopers, have been combing the region. Important reinforcements have been dispatched to Iboudrarene,” about 100 kilometres east of Algiers, the security official said. The slain troops were from a unit that had been deployed as part of a nationwide security operation for Thursday’s controversial leadership contest in which ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a fourth term.
The attack, by what the defence ministry called a “terrorist group”, came a day after the announcement of Bouteflika’s landslide victory, with 81.5 percent of the vote, despite his age and poor health prompting many Algerians to question his ability to rule. Discontent on polling day was most evident in Kabylie, where some 70 people were wounded in clashes between police and youths seeking to disrupt the vote. Bouteflika’s team, campaigning on his behalf because of the 77-year-old president’s frail condition, had emphasised his success in restoring stability to Algeria after the devastating civil war in the 1990s. Violence blamed on militants has declined considerably in recent years, but militants who battled the army during the civil war in the 1990s and later formed AQIM still operate in the Kabylie.
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