ALGIERS: al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on Sunday claimed responsibility for deadly twin suicide attacks in Algeria, accusing the regime there of supporting Moamer Qadhafi in neighbouring Libya.
The brazen suicide blasts, carried out with an explosive packed motorcycle, targeted an Algerian military academy and killed 18 people including officers in training from Syria and Tunisia.
A statement, titled “a gift for Eid”, emailed to AFP in Morocco said AQIM “claims responsibility for the two martyr operations” on Friday which “targeted the heart of Algeria's Cherchell military institution”, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Algerian capital.
The authenticity of the statement, sent by a man identifying himself as “Salah Abou Mohamed, official in charge of information of the al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb organisation” could not immediately be ascertained.
The text said the military school target was the “most important symbol of the Algerian regime” and accused Algeria of supporting the rule of Moamer Qadhafi in Libya, mirroring accusations made by rebel leaders in Benghazi and Tripoli.
On Sunday, the United States strongly condemned the attacks as “a horrific event” whose victims included non-Algerians who “were working to make their countries safer places,” a statement from the US state department said.
The attacks and the accusations from AQIM that the Algerian government is close to Qadhafi, come amid high tensions between Algeria and the rebels in Libya.
Rebel officials have accused Algiers of providing mercenaries to prop up the embattled Qadhafi regime, which the Algerian government denied.
Meanwhile Algeria has yet to recognise the National Transitional Council, despite the fall of Qadhafi, nor ever asked for his ouster.
On Sunday, NTC spokesman Ahmed Omar Bani said that the council made “a distinction between the great people of Algeria and the Algerian government.
Algerians have recognised us as freedom fighters and liberators of our country”.
“The day will come when they (Algerian leaders) will have to answer to their attitude to the Libyan revolution,” the spokesman added.
Algeria said on Thursday that it observed a “strict neutrality in refusing to intervene in one way or another in the internal affairs” of Libya.
Last week, the Algerian foreign minister denounced “a series of violations from a gang of individuals who took away vehicles belonging to the Algerian diplomatic mission in Tripoli.” Since, the ministry has ordered families of diplomats to return home, leaving only officials in Libya.
On Saturday meanwhile, a report on Egyptian radio attributed to rebel sources said a convoy of armoured Mercedes had entered Algeria from Libya and was thought to be carrying Qadhafi. A report firmly denied by Algiers.
The two Syrians killed Friday were army lieutenants-colonel Ahmad Ahmad and Anouar Saad, said a diplomatic source who requested that his name be withheld.
They had arrived in Algeria on August 8 to follow a one-year training course at the academy, which counts many foreigners among its students.
Tunisia announced Saturday that one of its officers, Major Bechir Ouerghi, was also killed in the attack.
The Algerian defence ministry had said 16 officers and two civilians were killed and 26 people wounded in Friday's attack on the Cherchell military academy, west of Algiers.
In its statement, AQIM claimed 36 people were killed in the attack, mostly Algerian officers, and more than 35 were seriously wounded.
El Watan newspaper said suicide bombers tried to cause as many casualties as possible by targeting the officers' mess just as all soldiers had assembled to break the Ramadan fast.
The bombers, one on a motorcycle, reportedly set off explosions a few seconds apart in front of the entrance to the academy's officers' mess hall.
The statement attributed to AQIM said the attacks “against apostates” were carried out by two jihadists, Abou Anas and Abou Nouh.
Authorities in Algeria generally remain tight-lipped about such incidents which have not ended despite a policy of national reconciliation adopted in the early 2000s by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Most attacks are attributed to al Qaeda's North African offshoot, AQIM.
Under Algeria's policy of national reconciliation many Islamist fighters have been offered pardons in exchange for laying down their arms.
The scene of Friday's attack, the Cherchell Academy, was set up by France during World War II after the Allied landings in North Africa on November 8, 1942. It remained an officers' college after Algerian independence in 1962.