An Al-Qaeda splinter group claimed Saturday to have carried out a suicide attack on a military base in southern Algeria which left 24 people wounded.
“We inform you that we are behind the explosion that occurred this morning at Tamanrasset,” a message sent to AFP and signed by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa said.
The website of the Algerian Arabic-language daily En Nahar said 10 gendarmes and 14 civilians were taken to hospital after the attack at the paramilitary gendarmerie headquarters in Tamanrasset, 1,970 kilometres (1,220 miles) south of Algiers.
Some of the injured were said to be in critical condition, while the suicide bomber was blown apart in the blast, which also caused major damage to the building.
The APS news agency confirmed the attack without giving the number of casualties and said a major security presence was now being deployed in the zone.
It was the first time such an attack had been reported in the area.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Jamat Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Garbi Afriqqiya) surfaced in December, when it claimed to be holding three Westerners kidnapped from a Western Sahara refugee camp in Algeria in October.
Security sources said it had broken off from the main group, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in order to spread jihad to west Africa and not confine themselves just to the Maghreb or Sahel regions.
The group released a video of the abducted aid workers and another showing six dark-skinned, turbaned men speaking of their ideological references, including Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar but putting more emphasis on historical figures of west African Islam.
Also in December, Mali and Algeria agreed to step up coordination in efforts to root out Al-Qaeda-linked groups in the region.
Al-Qaeda-linked groups have been active in Algeria, Mali, Niger and Mauritania for a decade but their activity has picked up since the fall of Moamer Kadhafi scattered the slain Libyan strongman’s arsenal across the region.
In April 2010, the four countries formed a Committee of Joint Chiefs (CEMOC), based in Tamanrasset, to coordinate their military efforts against AQIM.