More than 20 Algerian militants killed

Updated: 2007-05-14 14:10
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ALGIERS, Algeria - The Algerian military surrounded an insurgent stronghold near the capital and pounded the area with bombs, in the latest in a series of raids that have killed more than 20 militants, news reports said Sunday.

Government forces have stepped up sweeps of militant areas ahead of legislative elections next week.

Liberte newspaper said the air force bombed an insurgent stronghold near the region of Tizi-Ouzou, about 70 miles east of the Algiers. About 20 militants, including several leaders, have been holed up the area since Friday, the report said. Several bunkers used by the militants were destroyed in the bombings.

The newspaper did not report any casualities from the bombing raid, though it did say soldiers had killed at least six armed militants around the nearby village of Ait Yahia Moussa since Thursday.

Algeria has been fighting an insurgency since 1992, when the army canceled legislative elections that an Islamic party appeared set to win.

Since then, violence related to the insurgency has left an estimated 200,000 dead - civilians, soldiers and Islamic fighters - according to the government. Fighting largely died down in the late 1990s, but skirmishes have continued in recent months.

Sweeps in the eastern regions of Bejaia and Kalaa left at least eight militants dead, the report said. Three militants were also killed in a clash overnight Thursday in the Saida region about 435 miles west of the capital, Liberte said.

A weeklong sweep of the forested zones of the Ain Defla region, also west of Algiers, has left two militants dead, El Watan newspaper said.

The newspaper reported that soldiers killed four armed militants in a clash Saturday near the village of Ghoumrassa, about 38 miles east of Algiers.

Liberte said an unspecified number of militants, including leaders, turned themselves in to security forces over the past several days. The men surrendered following a disagreement with the leader of Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, an insurgent group, the newspaper said.

The state APS news agency reported Saturday that security forces detained three Libyan nationals who traveled to Algeria to join the group.

The men, aged 22 to 25, were "recruited by an extremist network with international ramifications," the report said. The men's guide, an Algerian, was also detained.

Last month, double suicide bombings rocked Algiers, killing 33 people and injuring 57. Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa claimed responsibility for the April 11 attacks, which hit the prime minister's office and a police station.

Some political observers have said Islamic militants could be looking to step up violence against government forces in an effort to disrupt Algeria's legislative elections planned for May 17.