A series of spectacular murders by Islamic militants in Algeria in recent weeks and growing attacks on vital targets in the capital are stirring concern that a showdown may be shaping up in the North African country.
Newspapers in France and Britain reported Tuesday that a senior intelligence officer in the Algerian army was shot to death along with two bodyguards and his driver Sunday in an Algiers suburb. There was no official confirmation of the killings, but the army man would be the highest-ranking officer to have been killed by militants in Algeria since a military-backed coup set off an Islamic revolt three years ago.
Islamic militants also have taken responsibility for blowing up three vital bridges in and around Algiers and killing at least 11 well-known figures in the arts and civil affairs in the last week.
Among them were the director of the national theater, a composer of Arab music and a leader of the feminist movement.
So far, the oil industry, crucial to the country’s flagging economy, has been spared. But diplomats and experts on Algerian affairs say the security situation seems to be spinning out of control, raising the prospect of all-out guerrilla war.
European governments - particularly in France, which, as Algeria’s former colonial ruler, has a large population of North Africans - are expressing nervousness and confusion over the rapid deterioration in security.
French President Francois Mitterrand urged the Algerian government this month to lay down its arms and negotiate with the help of European mediators, but the Algerian leadership rebuffed that notion as outside interference in its internal affairs.
Diplomats say ouster of Algeria’s military-dominated government could destabilize neighboring Morocco and Tunisia, leaving Europe to face a phalanx of Islamic states just across the Mediterranean modeled politically after Iran.