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Controversy over Algeria blast death toll

Latest update : 2008-06-11

Algeria's defence ministry has denied media reports that at least 12 people died in Sunday’s double bombing east of the capital Algiers.

Algeria's defence ministry is contesting the death toll reported by news agencies from Sunday’s double bombing east of the capital Algiers.

 

On Sunday, the AFP and Reuters news agencies reported that a French engineer – later identified as Pierre Nowacki - and his driver were killed when their car was blown up by a remote-controlled roadside bomb 50 km east of Algiers. Citing local security sources, the agencies reported that a second bomb went off shortly afterward, killing at least 10 security personnel and firemen.

 

But on Monday the Algerian Defence Ministry said only two people had been killed. "The attack killed two people, a French national and his Algerian driver who was working for a French public works company," a defence ministry statement stated Monday. "The toll given by some media is baseless," it added.

 

(Also Monday, Reuters reported, citing a security source, that another bombing had killed at least 20 people in Bouira, a town 120 km east of Algiers. That report was denied by Algerian national radio. It remains unclear whether the attack took place and if there were any casualties.)

 

The AFP bureau chief in Algiers and the local correspondent for Reuters were summoned to the information ministry on Monday. The ministry accused the AFP of exaggerating the death toll and said Reuters falsely reported that a bomb exploded at the bus station in Bouira. AFP and Reuters have noted the government’s denials, but have not withdrawn their reports.

 

Playing down the threat of terrorism?

 

According to FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Robert Parsons, part of the problem is that the government doesn’t provide a regular source of information for terrorist attacks. “The government tries to conceal them, or tries to interpret them in a way that is advantageous to the authorities,” says Parsons.

 

Furthermore, with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in bad health, many groups, especially within the military, are trying to grasp control of the government, says Parsons. “It may be the journalists were victim of false information because of the ongoing battle of succession within the Algerian government.”

 

Fayçal Metaoui, editor-in-chief of the Algerian news daily El Watan, says this isn’t the first time the government has appeared to hold back information. Metaoui says the government refused to divulge information regarding an attack on a military convoy, on June 6, which killed at least six soldiers.

 

“The Algerian government has a tendency to hide information. It’s possible that 13 people actually died in Sunday’s attacks but the government lowered it to two to play down the threat of terrorism,” Metaoui told FRANCE 24.

 

No group has claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack, but in the past similar attacks have been claimed by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an Algerian Islamist group formerly known as the GSPC.

 

Algeria has suffered a wave of deadly bombings in the past week. At least five bomb attacks struck areas around Algiers and the Kabylie region, an Islamist stronghold.

 

Watch the FRANCE 24 Debate: Algeria Under Attack?

Date created : 2008-06-10

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