ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian security forces shot dead an Islamist militant wearing a suicide bomb belt before he could detonate his explosives in a small town east of the capital Algiers, the state news agency APS said on Thursday.
The militant had been evading Algerian troops patrolling on Wednesday night around Maatkas near Tizi Ouzou in the mountainous region in what was once the stronghold of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
“Trapped by the army, he headed toward the police station in Maatkas, where he was probably planning to blow himself up,” APS said citing a security source. It said he was shot by the police and had been wearing a bomb belt.
Bombings and other attacks have become rare in Algeria since the North African state emerged from a 1990s decade of war with Islamist militants that killed 200,000 people. But al Qaeda’s North Africa branch and Islamic State affiliates operate in remote part of the vast, oil-exporting country.
The last attempted suicide attack in Algeria was also in Tizi Ouzou in 2011 when a militant tried to drive a bomb-packed truck into a police headquarters there, injuring 29 people.
The mountains around Tizi Ouzou, 60 miles (100 km) east of Algiers, were formerly a stronghold of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Islamists during the 1990s war.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb last week claimed a rocket attack on an Algerian gas plant, operated by BP and Statoil with state-owned Sonatrach, though it caused no casualties or notable damage. BP and Statoil said they would pull out some of their foreign staff from southern gas fields as security precaution.
Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Mark Heinrich