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Attack on Algerian military academy kills 18

/ Source: The Associated Press

A bomb explosion followed by a suicide attack outside a military academy in Algeria killed at least 18 officers in training Friday, a hospital said.

With at least 20 wounded, the toll was expected to rise, according to the Sidi Ghilas hospital where the victims were taken.

Earlier, a security official had confirmed the deaths of 15 military trainees but said the wounded toll was even higher, in the dozens.

The attacks began Friday evening when a bomb exploded just outside a military academy in Cherchell, 110 miles (180 kilometers) west of the capital, Algiers. Soldiers dining at a restaurant — which was within the base but near its perimeter — raced from their tables to see what had happened, according to security officials.

As a crowd gathered, a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his body drove his motorcycle at them, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing policy. The city was sealed off after the attack and the army chief of staff, Gen. Gaid Salah, arrived by helicopter shortly after to survey the scene.

Friday was the 27th day of the holy month of Ramadan, a sacred day in the Muslim calendar when the devout contend that their prayers go directly to God. As a result, many believers spend the entire night praying, but it also often draws attacks, with assailants thinking their message has more force as well.

Although no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, similar assaults have been blamed on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Islamist extremists have battled Algerian security forces since 1992 when the army canceled a national election that a now-banned Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win. Security forces gained the upper hand over the years, but sporadic attacks continue and increased dramatically in July. An estimated 200,000 people — civilians, insurgents and security forces have been killed since the violence began.