ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Two car bombs detonated minutes apart in the city of Algiers today. They exploded near the United Nations complex and Algeria's Constitutional Council. There are differing reports of the death toll, but it's clear that dozens have been killed including some employees of the U.N. The North African wing of al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the bombs.
Algeria fought a long and brutal civil war against Islamist militants in the 1990s, but it has been calmer in recent years. Today's bombing was the first major attack in the capital in nine months.
Earlier I spoke with Will Maclean of Reuters news agency in Algiers.
Mr. WILLIAM MACLEAN (Correspondent, Reuters): The first bomb went off in the Ben Aknoun area, near the Constitutional Council, and it shocked the hilltop section of the city. Within seconds, there were car sirens and people are running through the streets shouting and looking for information about what happened.
And within, I would say, one or two minutes, there was a second explosion, this time in the Hydra area where the U.N. offices are located. And again, the powerful car bomb exploded in a fairly confined street ripping the facade off a couple of buildings, one of which is the U.N. office and burying several people in rubble.
SIEGEL: What do people there make of targeting the United Nations complex in Algiers, if indeed that was the target of the second explosion? Is that a typical target for the (unintelligible) al-Qaida in North Africa exactly?
Mr. MACLEAN: Well, in sense that it's a foreign entity then, yes, it does fit into that pattern. And that is in line with a decree, if you will, by al-Qaida second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who called in September 4 North Africa's Muslims to cleanse their lands of Spaniards and French. And the thing is similar - anti-foreigner, anti-U.N. statements by al-Qaida's leaders in recent years.
But having said that, the U.N. itself is not really a major player in the Algerian society or - and certainly, was not a player in Algerian politics.
SIEGEL: Now, when you speak of al-Qaida in North Africa, this is what - I gather an older or the older Islamist group in Algeria has - how is it -restyled itself as al-Qaida in North Africa. Is that correct?
Mr. MACLEAN: That's right. Late in 2006, the group The Salafist Preaching and Combat, which was the most active of the militant armed groups in Algeria, pledged its allegiance to al-Qaida, and in early 2007 it renamed itself, or re-branded itself, as al-Qaida Organization in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb. And very soon enough, they became a lot more active. 2007 has been a busy year for the security services. That has been a bloody year for the country.
SIEGEL: And reaction from the military government or from other Algerians for that matter.
Mr. MACLEAN: The government has condemned it. Algerians on the streets today are extremely angry and worried. Everyone including government officials -well, can see that. And, you know, this problem clearly has not been fixed completely yet. And the armed groups, although they're numerically much diminished these days from the days of the 1990s when there were tens of thousands of Islamic fighters in the hills, they are bold and I think they make up in boldness what they lack in numerical strength.
SIEGEL: Bill Maclean of Reuters in Algiers, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. MACLEAN: You're very welcome.
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