ALGIERS, Algeria – A suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into a line of applicants at an Algerian police academy Tuesday, killing at least 43 people in the deadliest terror attack to jolt this energy-rich U.S. ally since the 1990s.
Witnesses said the blast in the town of Les Issers, about 35 miles east of Algiers, tore a 3-foot-deep crater in the road, ripped off parts of the police academy’s roof and damaged much of its facade and nearby buildings.
Bodies covered with multicolored blankets lay amid rubble. A charred car was on its side, its doors blown outward. Singed clothes were piled on a curb.
No group immediately claimed responsibility, but an al-Qaida affiliate previously said it was behind a series of bombings over the past two years in this North African country that has important oil and natural gas fields.
Violence has dramatically increased since 2006, when Algeria’s last big extremist group left over from a quieted insurgency in the 1990s renamed itself Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa and joined Osama bin Laden’s network.
Suicide attacks were unheard of in Algeria before the group linked up with al-Qaida.
Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa claimed it carried out suicide strikes in Algiers that killed 33 people in April 2007 and bombings in the capital last December that killed 41 people, including 17 U.N. employees.
While some attacks have struck foreigners, most have targeted the Algerian military and national security services, which are controlled by secularist generals.
“Today’s bombing is very symbolic, a pillar of the regime has been hit,” said Khadija Mohsen-Finan, head of the North Africa program at the French think-tank IFRI. “I don’t recall anything as big since the decade of the civil war.”