ALGIERS At least 11 Algerian soldiers were killed in an ambush by Islamic extremists while they escorted a group of Chinese construction workers, reports said on Thursday.
Some newspapers put the number of dead as high as 21 after Wednesdays attack in which a military convoy was ambushed outside the coastal town of Damous, near Tipaza, about 100 kilometres from the capital Algiers.
Press reports said the convoy was targeted by several bombs, after which a firefight broke out that lasted around 20 minutes. The Arabic newspaper El Khabar said five of the extremists were killed. There was no official confirmation of the reports.
Papers said that the ambush took place on the main highway linking Algiers with the northeast of the country.
Local sources said that the soldiers were returning after escorting to base a group of Chinese workers building the future motorway intended to cross the whole of Algeria from east to west.
The attack was among the deadliest for Algerian security forces this year.
On June 17, 18 gendarmerie troops and a civilian were killed in an attack on a military convoy near Bordj Bou Arreridj, about 200 kilometres southeast of Algiers.
The Algerian military regularly carries out search and destroy operations against radicals of Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is blamed for the attacks on forces of the secular regime.
A major hunt was launched in the wake of the ambush.
The military responds to attacks with both ground forces and helicopter gunships, since AQIM extremists hide out in mountainous and wooded areas that are hard to reach overland.
Sixteen armed fundamentalists were killed in recent days in the Kabylie region of northeast Algeria, including close to its chief town Tizi Ouzou, reports said. -AFP