| CHERCHELL, Algeria
CHERCHELL, Algeria Aug 27 A suicide attack on
an Algerian army barracks left many wondering how militants had
managed to strike in one of the country's most secure locations
and stirred dark memories of past conflict.
Two suicide bombers hit the barracks housing a prestigious
military school in the coastal town of Cherchell west of Algiers
on Friday, killing 16 soldiers and two civilians.
More than 20 people were injured, Algeria's state APS agency
quoted the defence ministry as saying.
"When I found out that the barracks were hit, I couldn't
believe it," said Yahia Keriani, who runs a book stall close to
the compound and heard the explosions.
"Cherchell's military school is the biggest and the safest
in the entire country. How is this possible?"
Algeria, an energy exporter and a key U.S. ally in its
campaign against al Qaeda, is still emerging from nearly two
decades of conflict between security forces and Islamist
militant groups that killed around 200,000 people.
Violence has died down significantly in the past few years,
but the militants -- who now operate as Al Qaeda in the Islamic
Maghreb (AQIM) -- still carry out ambushes, kidnappings and
Algeria has said it believes AQIM is exploiting the chaos in
neighbouring Libya, and smuggling weapons out of that battlezone
to its base in the Sahara.
On Friday, the attackers drove up to the barracks soon after
iftar -- when Muslims break their daily fast during the holy
month of Ramadan.
Residents said the first attacker blew himself up at the
entrance before the second ran into the front courtyard where
officers were sitting down to eat.
In the centre of Cherchell, about 100 km (62 miles) west of
Algiers, small groups of residents gathered in front of the
town's ancient Roman ruins to digest the news.
Many said Cherchell had always been secure, even at the
height of Algeria's violence.
In the past, attacks had focused on territory east of the
capital, including the mountainous Kabylie region, where AQIM
has a stronghold.
"A suicide attack in 2011 against the military school of
Cherchell is very worrying," one elderly resident told Reuters.
"A Muslim can't do something like this, killing innocent
Muslims who were fasting," said another, who declined to be
named. "I thought terrorism was over, but I was wrong."
(Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Andrew Heavens)