Al Qaeda claim bomb in Algeria, nine hurt

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ALGIERS, Sep 21 (Reuters) A bomb exploded near a police convoy accompanying foreign workers in Algeria today, injuring nine people including two French and one Italian, the official news agency APS reported.

Al Qaeda's wing in North Africa said it was behind the attack, which it said was a suicide car bombing. It was the first attack on foreigners reported in the oil-exporting country since March.

''The martyrdom seeking hero Othman Abu-Jafar launched a Mazda vehicle ... packed with more than 250 kg of explosives against the Crusader Frenchmen,'' a spokesman for al Qaeda said in an audiotape broadcast on Al Arabiya television.

As well as three foreigners, APS said five gendarmes and a driver were injured by the bomb in a mountainous area 70 km southeast of Algiers in Kabylie district.

''The nine injured people are out of danger,'' it said, quoting the Interior Ministry.

A French company, Razel, said the foreign workers were its employees, but it denied that any of its staff were injured.

The French embassy in Algiers had no comment.

A Razel spokeswoman said the attack had targeted an off-road vehicle used by the company, which is building a dam in the area.

Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, called in a video posted yesterday for north Africa's Muslims to ''cleanse'' their land of Spaniards and French.

French newspaper Le Monde reported today that two employees of airport operator Aeroports de Paris were urgently repatriated from Algeria this month after intelligence suggested a branch of al Qaeda planned to kidnap them.

Up to 200,000 people have been killed in Algeria since 1992 after military-backed authorities scrapped parliamentary electionsthat an Islamist party was poised to win.

The violence has subsided in recent years but some bloodshed continues, mainly in Kabylie and nearby areas.

Al Qaeda's north African wing -- al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb -- is most active in Kabylie where government forces have launched counter-terror operations in recent months after a series of deadly bombings.

It claimed responsibility for two suicide attacks earlier this month which killed at least 57 people.

In March, three Algerians and a Russian were killed in a roadside attack southwest of Algiers on a bus carrying workers for a Russian pipeline construction company.

REUTERS GT RK2116

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