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Faction’s Cease-Fire Doesn’t Quell Algeria’s Horror 105 People Killed Despite Weaker Islamic Group’s Truce

Sun., Oct. 5, 1997

Algeria’s bloody insurgency shows no sign of abating despite one militant group’s cease-fire, with witnesses Saturday reporting 105 people killed in a 48-hour spree of massacres and bombings.

Four days after the Islamic Salvation Army began its truce, attacks characteristic of the rival Armed Islamic Group targeted schools, apartment buildings and a wedding, with dozens of children among the victims.

Many residents of Blida, a garrison town 30 miles south of Algiers, fled their homes Friday night after assailants attacked with homemade rockets and bombs, killing 10 people and injuring 20, hospital sources and witnesses said.

Security forces there staged a counterattack with helicopters, but it was not known if there were any casualties.

Groups of men armed with guns and sharp-edged weapons killed 75 others - including 34 children - in two massacres early Friday morning, and a third group slaughtered 20 members of a wedding party Thursday night, witnesses said.

As usual, there was no immediate government confirmation of the killings and no claim of responsibility, but suspicion fell on the Islamic militants whose 5-1/2-year insurgency has left more than 75,000 people dead.

The assailants in Blida cut electrical power to the neighborhoods they targeted before launching their assault, said witnesses interviewed in Algiers Saturday morning. The independent daily Liberte said the bombing targets included schools. Just after the attack, army helicopters bombarded the neighborhood for 20 minutes, said Farida Slimani, a 22-year-old medical student whose house was destroyed in the militants’ rocket attack.

Blida is a stronghold of the Armed Islamic Group, Algeria’s most violent insurgent faction, which has ignored the cease-fire called by its weaker rival, the Islamic Salvation Army.

In Mahelma, a village just outside Blida, assailants slit the throats or cut off the heads of 26 adults and 12 children in a predawn attack Friday and then set their bodies on fire, witnesses said. The attackers injured dozens of people and kidnapped two women.

At about the same time, armed men killed 37 people - including 22 children - in a similar massacre at the village of Ouled Benaissa, 30 miles south of Blida, the hospital sources said.

And in Kharrouba, a village near Oran 220 miles west of Algiers, armed attackers broke up a Thursday night wedding, killing 20 people aged 15 to 20 and injuring 30 others, a hospital source said.

Nine of the victims were decapitated, and one was hacked to death with a machete when he tried to intervene.

The insurgency began after the military canceled a 1992 parliamentary election runoff that Islamic fundamentalist parties were poised to win. The militants want to overthrow the government and establish a state based on Koranic law.

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