Emergency workers searched for bodies and survivors Wednesday after twin truck bombings by an affiliate of al-Qaida targeted U.N. offices and a government building in Algiers, killing at least 31 people.
Al-Qaida’s self-styled North African branch, in a posting on a militant Web site, said two suicide bombers attacked the buildings Tuesday with trucks carrying 1,760 pounds of explosives each.
It described the U.N. offices as “the headquarters of the international infidels’ den.” The other target, Algeria’s Constitutional Council, rules on the constitutionality of laws and oversees elections.
Some estimates of the final death toll climbed well above the Interior Ministry’s figure of 31, with a hospital official saying at least 60 were killed and Algeria’s independent daily El Watan saying up to 72 died and 200 were wounded.
With nine United Nations workers among the dead, the attack was the worst against staff of the world body since an August 2003 bombing at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad killed 22.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the attack will not deter the United Nations in its mission “to help those most in need.”
“Our colleagues in Algiers would ask no less,” Ban said in an address to the General Assembly by video link from a climate conference in Bali, Indonesia.
5-6 thought buried in rubble
Emergency workers spent the night digging through gutted buildings in a search for victims, and cranes hoisted large chunks of debris.
Five or six people remained trapped under the rubble Wednesday, according to the Civil Protection agency, the official APS news agency said. Scores of people were wounded but the foreign minister said 26 remained hospitalized Wednesday.
Families of the missing stood outside police cordons surrounding the sites of the bombings, waiting for news of their relatives.
Dozens of people lined up outside a major hospital to give blood for the wounded.
The Interior Ministry said 31 people died, and the Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said five were foreigners.
The targeting of United Nations offices was a new development in Algeria’s 15-year battle against Islamic insurgents, who previously focused their hate on symbols of Algeria’s military-backed government and civilians.
Ban called for an immediate review of U.N. security precautions and policies in Algeria and elsewhere.
Deadliest attack on U.N. since 2003
U.N. officials in Geneva said it was the worst single attack on U.N. staff and facilities since August 2003, when the global body’s headquarters in Baghdad were hit by a truck laden with explosives. Among the 22 dead in that attack was top U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, and it was blamed on a group that later affiliated with al-Qaida.
The U.N. offices are in the upscale Hydra neighborhood of Algiers, which houses many foreign embassies and has a substantial foreign population.
The U.S. Embassy said it was “implementing more robust security procedures while we assess the current security situation,” according to a statement on its Web site. The Embassy was open Wednesday.
“Algerians are completely united against terrorism,” Medelci said, insisting that the attacks did not portend “civil war.”
Asked about the possibility of attacks elsewhere in North Africa, he said: “It’s everyone who is targeted, sooner or later.”
The French Embassy urged “great vigilance” and said that though violence had largely died down in recent years, “recent attacks show that it is time for a return to the most extreme prudence.”
“The renewed threat by al-Qaida against French interests in North Africa cannot be ignored,” the embassy said on its Web site.
Al-Qaida has called for attacks on French and Spanish interests in North Africa. French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Algeria last week.
Government 'certain' of al-Qaida link
Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said the government was “certain” that al-Qaida’s North Africa affiliate — formerly known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC — “was behind the attack.”
Militants arrested after previous bombings in April had identified the U.N. offices and the council building as future targets, Zerhouni said, according to the official APS news agency.
Nine U.N. employees were among the dead, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York. On Tuesday, she said 11 U.N. workers had been believed killed.
About 175 U.N. employees worked in Algeria.
Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa is thought to have only several hundred fighters but has resisted Algerian security sweeps. Its members have rejected amnesty offers and have turned their sights from toppling the government to waging holy war and fighting Western interests.
Algeria has been battling Islamic insurgents since the early 1990s, when the army canceled the second round of the country’s first multiparty elections, stepping in to prevent likely victory by an Islamic fundamentalist party.
Islamist armed groups then turned to force to overthrow the government, with up to 200,000 people killed in the ensuing violence.