Two apparent car bombs have exploded in the Algerian capital, killing at least 24 people and wounding more than 200.  Some reports put the casualty figures much higher.  The attacks come as Algeria and other North African states have tightened security amid rising threats from al-Qaida linked militant groups.  VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough reports from our Middle East and North Africa bureau in Cairo.

One bomb targeted the prime minister's office in the center of Algiers.  It ripped a hole in the six-story building, which also houses a number of government ministries, and sent debris flying hundreds of meters away.

Moments later, the second attack targeted a police station in the suburb of Bab Ezzouar, east of the city.  Eyewitness reports indicate that both attacks may have been suicide car bombings.

Speaking to Algerian state media, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem called it "a criminal, cowardly act." 

 "We are now carrying out investigations to establish the number of people dead and wounded," he said. "Our priority is getting the wounded to hospitals and ensuring that gas pipes are secured.  Afterward, we will count the number of victims of this cowardly act."

The prime minister himself was not injured.  There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings. 

Algeria has recently been struggling to contain an upswing in deadly Islamic militant attacks in the countryside.  A bombing of a Russian company's bus last month killed four people.  In December, two others died in an attack on a bus carrying foreign workers for a Halliburton affiliate.

Wednesday's attack is believed to be the first time that a bomb has rocked central Algiers since the 1990s when an Islamic insurgency rose up after the military annulled a parliamentary election that an Islamist party looked set to win.  Years of violence ensued, killing up to 200,000 people.

The Algerian government has lately been reaching out to the remaining militants with a series of amnesty offers.  But the main militant group, formerly called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat and known by its French initials GSPC, in January changed its name to the Al-Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb and strengthened its ties to Osama Bin Laden's group.

The attacks in Algiers also came a day after three alleged Islamic militants in neighboring Morocco blew themselves up during standoffs with police.  Authorities in Casablanca said they were launching a manhunt for up to 10 more possible bombers.  Police were looking for the men in connection to an explosion in a Casablanca Internet café last month.