Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal pledged a “relentless” hunt for the killers of at least nine soldiers caught in an ambush claimed by al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch. “There will be a relentless pursuit of these terrorists,” Sellal said during a visit to Madrid, referring to Friday’s attack on an army patrol in Djebel Louh in Ain Defla province, 140 kilometres (85 miles) southwest of Algiers.
“We are determined to fight terrorism to the end,” he added in remarks translated from Arabic at a press conference with his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy. Sellal gave the number of soldiers killed in the attack at the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan as nine. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in an unverified statement posted online, claimed to have killed 14 troops.
Sellal said Algeria had stepped up security along the borders of the vast desert state, in a bid to “restore peace and tranquillity to all citizens”. Algeria still bears the scars of a brutal civil war in the 1990s between the state and Islamist insurgents.
Sellal said the gas-rich country had made progress since “towards reconciliation” and that questions relating to extremism could “not be dealt with solely through the use of force”.
Friday’s attack was the deadliest on the armed forces since April 2014, when 15 soldiers were killed in an ambush in the mountainous northeast. AQIM, which grew out of Algeria’s Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), has carried out numerous attacks and kidnappings of Western nationals in the Sahel region of north and west Africa in the past decade.