Gangs of men hurled bombs into a mosque and a movie hall in simultaneous attacks south of Algiers, killing up to 120 people, hospital sources said Monday. Survivors said the raiders berated moviegoers for failing to say evening prayers.
As victims streamed from both buildings in panic, the attackers unleashed a blitz of gunfire, survivors said.
The massacres come on the sixth anniversary of the army coup that thwarted the Islamic Salvation Front’s rise to power by canceling national elections mid-vote. Angry militants responded by launching an insurgency that is now blamed for an estimated 75,000 deaths.
Medical sources at hospitals in Algiers and its suburbs said 120 people were killed and another 100 injured in the Sunday night attacks in Sidi Ahmed and nearby Haouche Sahraoui.
Security forces, who have consistently deflated death counts from massacres, put the toll at 103 killed and 70 wounded.
Sunday’s carnage took place in the so-called “triangle of death,” just south of the capital, the region that has borne the bulk of the increasingly indiscriminate and brutal killings.
Shortly after evening prayers Sunday, scores of attackers stormed the movie theater in Sidi Ahmed, just south of Algiers, hurling homemade bombs into its interior.
As the crowd emerged into the open air, people were hacked to death with spades and axes by waiting armed groups. Others were shot or had their throats cut.
Women and children were said to be among the victims.
“You should be in the mosque for the prayer of the taraouith (evening),” survivors, speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted the gangs as saying.
At the same time in nearby Haouche Sahraoui, other gang members tossed a crude bomb into a mosque, using guns to cut down fleeing victims mid-stride.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but suspicion fell on Islamic insurgents trying to bring down the military-backed government.
The radical Armed Islamic Group, known as the GIA, has long been entrenched in the region south of Algiers.
“We know the attackers,” said Farid, a young man who lost several members of his family in the attack.
“It’s the GIA. They had already threatened us. They said, ‘We’re going to kill you,’ and they came.”
Farid spoke to The Associated Press on condition he not be further identified.
In a statement carried by the state-run APS news agency, the security forces said government-armed self-defense groups helped push back the attackers at Sidi Ahmed. Two soldiers were injured and two members of the self-defense forces killed, it said.
The level of violence in Algeria has intensified with the Dec. 30 start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. At least 600 people were killed in mountainous hamlets in western Algeria during the first week.
Some of the killings have occurred within sight of army barracks, giving rise to contentions that the military may be playing a role in the massacres to discredit the rebels.