- Algeria - police - suicide bombing - terrorism
A suicide attacker killed Tuesday 43 people and wounded 45 others waiting outside an elite police school in Algeria, plunging the country into a new security alert over Islamist militants.
Al-Qaeda has claimed previous attacks in Algeria but officials gave no indication who was behind the strike on candidates waiting to take an examination at Issers, 60 kilometres (37 miles) east of Algiers.
The Interior Ministry said the dead included 42 civilians and one police official, and added that 32 of the wounded were civilians.
It was the deadliest attack this year in Algeria and worse than the December 2007 attacks in Algiers against government and United Nations buildings, which killed 41 people and injured many others.
Witnesses told AFP the attacker drove a car packed with explosives at the main entrance to the school as university graduates waited outside to start an entry exam in the hope of joining the paramilitary gendarmerie.
"It's utter carnage," said the elderly father of one of those killed in the attack. "It's a catastrophe," he said, weeping. "May God punish them for the crime they have committed against these youngsters and their country."
Another candidate survived because he went to buy cigarettes but his father, mother and brother were killed in the blast, witnesses said.
As well as devastating the entrance to the school, the blast destroyed several nearby houses, blew out windows in nearby shops and uprooted trees.
The explosion left a crater several metres (yards) wide. Civilians and police were among the victims, witnesses said.
Emergency workers gathered up the remains of the dead, wrapping them in blankets and placing them in waiting ambulances.
Security forces sealed off the area and closed off roads leading into Isser.
Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni, surrounded by heavy security, told reporters at the scene: "This is an act against Algerians."
A statement from the French EU presidency condemned the attack and expressed support for Algeria's "fight against terrorism."
"Once again, the Algerian people are victims of indiscriminate and barbaric terrorist attacks," it added.
Spain also condemned the attack while Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Rome "stands beside Algeria in the fight against all barbarity." The German foreign ministry called the attack "cruel and cowardly".
The bombing was just the latest in a series on security forces in recent weeks and comes in the run-up to Ramadan, when Muslims observe a month of fasting and spiritual reflection. Ramadan is considered a peak period for "jihad" or holy war.
Recent attacks have ended a six-month period of relative calm that followed the devastating December bombings in Algiers and a subsequent security clampdown.
Between January and July, Algerian courts handed down 218 death sentences in absentia to armed Islamists on the run, according to judicial sources.
The increase in attacks has been explained by analysts in the Algerian press as a bid by the leaders of Islamist extremist groups to break out of their normal area of activities.
That zone, the so-called "quadrangle of death," covers the capital Algiers and the cities of Boumerdes, Bouira and Tizi Ouzo to the east and southeast. It is the focus of intense activity by the security forces.