An al-Qaida-linked militant group has claimed responsibility for two car bombs that exploded in the Algerian capital Wednesday killing at least 28 people and wounding more than 160 others. The attacks come as Algeria and other North African states have tightened security amid rising threats from Islamic extremist groups.
One bomb targeted the prime minister's office in the center of Algiers. It ripped a hole in the six-story building, which also houses a number of government ministries, and sent debris flying hundreds of meters away.
Moments later, the second attack targeted a police station in the suburb of Bab Ezzouar, east of the city. Eyewitness reports say both attacks appear to have been suicide car bombings.
Speaking to Algerian state media, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem called it "a criminal, cowardly act."
He said, "We are now carrying out investigations to establish the number of people dead and wounded. Our priority is getting the wounded to hospitals and ensuring that gas pipes are secured. Afterward, we will count the number of victims of this cowardly act."
The prime minister himself was not injured.
The al-Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb region claimed responsibility for the attacks in a statement published on the Internet alongside the what it claimed were the photos of three suicide bombers.
The group used to be called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, known by its French acronym GSPC. But in January it changed its name and strengthened its ties to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaida group. Analysts say the attacks are a sign that al-Qaida and its affiliates are growing stronger and more organized in North Africa.
Wednesday's attacks are believed to be the first in central Algiers since the 1990s, when an Islamic insurgency rose up after the military annulled the 1992 parliamentary election that an Islamist party looked set to win. Years of fighting ensued, killing up to 200-thousand people.
Many Algerians believed they had left the most extreme violence in the past. The Algerian government has lately been reaching out to the remaining militants with a series of amnesty offers.
But Algeria has recently been struggling to contain a surge in deadly Islamic militant attacks in the countryside, mostly targeting security forces and foreigners. A bombing of a Russian company's bus last month killed four people. In December two others died in an attack on a bus carrying foreign workers for a Halliburton affiliate.
The attacks in Algiers also came a day after three alleged Islamic militants in neighboring Morocco blew themselves up during standoffs with police. Authorities in Casablanca said they were launching a manhunt for up to 10 more possible bombers. Police were looking for the men in connection to an explosion in a Casablanca Internet cafe last month.