Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a double car bomb strike in Algiers on Tuesday that killed dozens of people as rescuers desperately worked through the night to find survivors.
|An Algerian man walks past a damaged bus in front of the destroyed Supreme Court building in Algiers (Photo: AFP)|
Amid a disputed death toll, rescuers pulled six people alive from the debris of one of the bombs which tore through the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other UN agencies, Algerian television reported.
The second attack killed and maimed students packed in a bus passing a car as it was detonated outside the country's highest court in central Algiers.
The government said 26 people were killed and 177 wounded by the two bombs. Hospital sources gave a toll of 62 dead and about 100 injured.
The United Nations said at least 11 of its staff were killed and several more were still unaccounted for after the attacks as rescuers, aided by sniffer dogs, tried to locate injured survivors among the debris.
Stunned families gathered nearby anxiously awaiting news of missing relatives.
One woman shouted and slumped toward the ground after hearing her son was among the dead, and authorities quickly led her away.
Al-Qaeda's Branch in the Islamic Maghreb (BAQMI) claimed responsibility for the bombs in a statement published on an Islamist website, the authenticity of which could not be immediately confirmed.
"We are announcing the good news to the Muslim nation," read the statement, alongside photographs it said were the two suicide bombers, named as Abdel Rahmane al-Assmi and Ammi Ibrahim Abou Othmane, carrying assault rifles.
It hailed "the success of the two martyr operations carried out by... two heroes in Algiers to defend the nation of Islam and to humiliate the crusaders and their agents, the slaves of the United States and the sons of France."
The statement said the double bombings "debunked the myth that the inner-core of our group has been destroyed."
"This attack reminds the crusaders who are occupying our land and who pillage our wealth of the necessity of paying heed to the demands and addresses of our sheikh and emir Osama bin Laden, God protect him."
The group threatened new attacks. "The mujahideen (fighters) of the Maghreb are volunteering for more martyrdom attacks which will continue until all the lands of Islam are freed...."
Meanwhile, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem insisted on national television that "the official toll that we have given is the real toll," adding: "We have nothing to hide and every drop of Algerian blood counts for us."
It was the latest of a series of bombings in the capital and other major Algerian cities this year that have killed about 100 people. Al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility for all of them.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon led international outrage over the attacks. He condemned "in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attacks in Algiers", his office said in a statement.
The United States called them acts of "senseless violence".
"We condemn this attack on the United Nations office by these enemies of humanity who attack the innocent," said a White House statement.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who made a state visit to Algeria last week, denounced what he called "barbaric, hateful and deeply cowardly acts."
The leaders of Russia, Syria, Spain and Italy also condemned the attacks, as did those in neighboring Morocco and Tunisia.
Algerian Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said a suicide bomber triggered the explosion which ripped through the offices of the UNHCR, neighboring UN Development Program (UNDP) and other agencies. The front of the building collapsed.
The chief of the UN's refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, said he had "no doubt the UN was targeted" in the attacks.
There was also widespread destruction around the other car bomb attack, which occurred minutes earlier, outside of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Council building.
"It was like an earthquake," said Ameur Rekhaila, a lawyer who was on the second floor of the Constitutional Council when the bomb went off.
The full force of the bomb blew apart a bus packed with university students as it passed the Supreme Court headed for a nearby law faculty.
Security sources said most of the dead and injured from this attack were students. The blast left a crater several meters (yards) wide.
The UN office is in the Hydra district where the finance and energy ministries and several diplomatic residences are also located.
BAQMI, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), has claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks across Algeria since changing its name and pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden this year.
More than 120 people have now died in the attacks.
On September 6, a suicide attack targeting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's convoy in Batna killed 22 people. Another suicide attack east of Algiers, left 30 dead and 40 wounded.
Bombs in the Algerian capital on April 11 killed 33 people.