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Nine killed in attack on engineering site

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Nine workers at a private security firm were killed when militants attacked an engineering site in northeastern Algeria, residents and media sources said on Monday. Three other security guards were wounded in the attack.


AFP - Nine members of a private security firm were killed when Islamist militants attacked their base near Jijel in northeastern Algeria, residents and local journalists said on Monday.

Three other guards were wounded in the attack on the building used by private security company Spas on Sunday evening in the town of Ziama Mansouriah, around 360 kilometres (225 miles) east of the capital Algiers, they said.

The Algerian company carries out security work for factories in the region.

There was no immediate confirmation by authorities of the attack, which came three weeks ahead of the start of a presidential election campaign in the north African country.

The extremists used an artisanal mortar to shell the security guards' building in the first such attack in the region in several years, though the company has been targeted before.

Residents were unable to say how many men took part in the offensive.

The attack is the worst in the past six months in Algeria, and follows a spate of deadly assaults on military and civilians in the northeast of the country over the past month.

Seven soldiers were killed in two separate attacks on February 15, three in in an Islamist ambush some 50 kilometres east of Algiers, and four others in Tebessa in the far east of the country, in an attack on their convoy.

Algerians go to the polls to elect a new president on April 9, with the incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking an unprecedented third term.

Bouteflika has vowed to "press on with a policy of national reconciliation" that he launched in 2000 following two referendums, and which has enabled the release from jail or the surrender of thousands of Islamist fighters who have laid down their weapons.

But the 72-year-old head of state added that while "the door remains open to those who repent," he will "continue to fight terrorism with all necessary means."

The most serious round of recent violence took place, as frequently occurs, during and around the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which extremists consider auspicious for armed struggle.

In August, ahead of Ramadan, Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi) carried out and claimed responsibility for a wave of attacks on security forces, including one on a police training college at Issers, 60 kilometres east of Algiers, which killed 48 people.

The past few months have until recently been calm, and the recent Aqmi attacks have been at fake roadblocks or by laying mines on roads to ambush military convoys.

Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said on February 18 at Blida, a garrison town south of the capital, that the security situation in the country had grown "significantly better."

"In the past few months, the security services and the army have achieved excellent results" during their search and destroy operations, Berhouni said.

The latest achievement, he added, was "the surrender of (Ali) Bentouati, who was one of the main (Aqmi) commanders in the central zone."

Bouteflika's national reconciliation policy was voted in after more than a decade of bloody insurgency in Algeria that claimed scores of thousands of lives.

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