In the deadliest attack in years, 11 Algerian soldiers have been killed while returning from a mountain patrol. The attack follows last week’s presidential poll.
Algerian security forces said on Sunday that Islamist insurgents had killed at least 11 soldiers and left up to 14 others wounded when they ambushed a military bus late on Saturday night on a mountainous main road between two villages in the north east of the country.
The soldiers had been searching for militants in the Tizi Ouzou region, 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of the capital, Algiers, when they were attacked by fighters from al-Qaeda’s north African branch, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) according to a security source quoted by the Reuters news agency. Last week the army said it had killed two “terrorists” in the same area.
AQIM is mostly based in southern Algeria, but over the past few months the army has killed several militants in the northeastern mountains, and security sources say some of them were found with weapons traced to Libya.
Algeria fought against Islamic insurgents in the 1990s but the militants are now largely confined to isolated regions, such as the Kabylie mountains, east of the capital.
The Kabylie mountains are mainly populated by Berbers, North Africa’s original inhabitants, who have long been disaffected from the government in Algiers.
The attack follows Thursday’s election, which saw 77-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika return to power for a fourth term. The poll was marked by low turnout and opposition claims of fraud.
There is considerable discontent with the Bouteflika government in the Kabylie area where on election day, 70 people were hurt in clashes between police and young people trying to disrupt the presidential poll.
The Tizi Ouzou region near Saturday night’s attack site had the lowest participation rate in the presidential election in the entire country.
In January last year, militants raided Algeria’s Amenas gas plant near Libya’s border to the east. Forty oil contractors were killed in the attack which led BP and Norway’s Statoil to take their workers out.