Death Toll in Algeria Bombings Rises to 33; Manhunt Underway
The death toll from Wednesday's suicide bombings in Algeria rose by 10 on Thursday, to 33, and the police mounted a nationwide manhunt for those responsible for the attacks.
Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, North Africa's most active terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the twin bombings, which were directed at the main government building in Algiers and at a police station east of the city. More than 200 people were wounded.
It could have been even worse: The police found a third bomb in a Mercedes-Benz sedan near the home of Ali Tounsi, director general of the national police, according to witnesses and local press reports. The bomb was defused.
It was apparently one of the bombs referred to on Islamist Web sites on Wednesday, which claimed that a third suicide bomber was attacking the Algerian headquarters of Interpol. Interpol links police forces in 186 countries around the world.
The police set up checkpoints around Algiers and increased patrols on the outskirts, but the mood there had already darkened. The French-language daily newspaper Liberte wrote that the attacks "have wakened the demons of a violence we believed had been contained."
Algeria has only recently emerged from the shadows of a brutal civil war, set off when the military canceled elections in 1992 that a fundamentalist Islamic party was poised to win. The war, which wound down after a government amnesty in 1999, was marked by horrific massacres of men, women and children — slitting throats was common — that left deep scars in the national psyche.
A national reconciliation program last year sought to shut that history firmly in the past with a new amnesty for the remaining Islamist fighters and with the release of hundreds of former fighters from jail. Even talking of the past atrocities became illegal.
A committed core of Islamists kept up the fight, but most Algerians were confident that the movement had been defeated, as repeated government pronouncements claimed.
Islamists warned otherwise, however. "When you leave a small fire burning, it can spread," Abdelhak Layada, a founder of the Armed Islamic Group, said in an interview last June, shortly after he was freed under the reconciliation program.