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Violence Surges in Algeria


Algeria has witnessed a worrying surge of violence in recent months, including two terrorist attacks this past week alone that killed roughly 50 people and injured hundreds. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA on the new face of terrorism in this North African country.

Terrorism is an old story in Algeria. The country weathered a civil war in the 1990s pitting Islamist militants against the military-backed government. More than 150,000 people died. But things have calmed down in recent years, until 2007.

Some of the most spectacular strikes this year include suicide attacks in April that killed 30 people and wounded more than 200. Another in July left 10 dead and 35 injured.

Then on Thursday, an explosion ripped through a crowd waiting for the arrival of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the eastern Algerian town of Batna. Another suicide bombing Saturday struck coast guard barracks in northern Algeria. On Sunday, tens-of-thousands of Algerians took to the streets to protest the violence.

A group calling itself al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa has claimed responsibility for the strikes. The group was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. French terrorist expert Jean-Francois Daguzin notes a change in strategy as well.

For the first time this year, Daguzin says, the group has formally acknowledged its ties to al-Qaida. The group's methods, suicide attacks, are new for Algeria.

Experts say the attacks amount to a setback for President Bouteflika's eight-year-old national reconciliation program, which is aimed at turning a page on the conflict of the 1990s. But Khadija Mohsen-Finan, a North Africa expert at the French Institute of International Affairs in Paris, says there is little likelihood Algeria will return to its bloody past.

Despite their grand ambitions, Mohsen Finan says, the al-Qaida North African combatants are amateurs, and not a real threat to the state.

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