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Islamic Militants Kill 43 Algerian Troops in Ambush, reports Newspaper - 2003-01-05

An Algerian newspaper, Le Matin, reports that Islamic militants ambushed a convoy of government troops, killing 43 and seriously wounding 19 others late Saturday. The assault is said to be the deadliest for Algerian soldiers in the past five years.

The newspaper reports that Islamic rebels, lying in wait with bombs made from bottles of explosive gas, ambushed a military convoy in Theniet el Abed, some 320 kilometers south of the capital, Algiers.

The mountainous area is a known stronghold of the extremist Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known as GSPC. The group is on the U.S. blacklist of terrorist organizations and is believed to have ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The dead included soldiers and members of Algeria's civilian defense force.

Before the attack, Algeria's military-backed government had been claiming it was winning its decade-long battle against Islamic militants.

The last serious assault against the Algerian military was in 1998 when 28 soldiers were killed in an ambush at Boghni, 130 kilometers east of Algiers.

Algeria has been racked by violence since early 1992 when authorities cancelled a parliamentary election that radical Islamists were poised to win. More than 120,000 people have been killed in resulting civil strife.