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Algiers car bomb and village death toll hits 66 as shock sets in

January 21, 1997

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ The death toll from a car bombing and an attack on a village outside Algiers rose to 66 on Monday, making it one of the worst days in five years of unrest between the military-backed regime and Islamic militants.

The bomb exploded Sunday in a bustling section of the capital, hours after armed men attacked the village of Beni Slimane, killing at least 36 people and decapitating some of the victims. Newspapers put the death toll at nearly 50.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attacks, the latest in a series of assaults that have intensified since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan 10 days ago.

Authorities blame the violence on armed Islamic militants seeking to topple Algeria’s leadership and install strict Koranic law.

Authorities said the massacre in Beni Slimane, about 45 miles southwest of Algiers, was the work of ``terrorists″ _ its term for militants.

The Muslim insurgency, which has left an estimated 60,000 dead, was triggered by the army’s January 1992 cancellation of legislative elections that the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win. The party was banned.

Residents of the crowded Belcourt neighborhood of Algiers were still in shock from the Sunday night car blast that devastated a cafe, incinerated a half-dozen cars and damaged nearby buildings.

Hospital sources put the death toll at 30, with 100 others injured.

The bombing happened just as local residents were breaking the daily fast that marks Ramadan. The street and cafe were full.

``I was stirring my coffee when a fireball, followed by a thunderclap, threw me against a car,″ said Mohamed Boudjemaa, a 50-year-old electrician.

``I can’t forget what I saw: pieces of human flesh burned black.″

Informed sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the powerful bomb was rigged in a Volkswagen stolen the night before near the Casbah, another crowded neighborhood where violence has become common.

Belcourt, like the Casbah, has long been a stronghold for Muslim fundamentalists. Before the insurgency, it was known as a gathering place for ``Afghans″ _ Algerian volunteers who fought in the Afghanistan civil war.

The Algerian capital and surrounding region have been convulsed by violence since November, when the constitution was revised in a referendum to ban religious parties and make other changes giving President Liamine Zeroual a firmer grip on power.

Zeroual plans this spring to hold the first legislative elections since the canceled 1992 vote.

Update hourly