ALGIERS, May 12 (Reuters) – Algerian troops, stepping up assaults on al Qaeda’s north African wing after suicide bombings last month, killed seven members of the group in fighting east and west of Algiers, newspapers reported on Saturday.
Troops backed by helicopters killed four militants believed to belong to the al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb in a big offensive in Tizi Ouzou province 100 km (62 miles) east of the capital Algiers, El Watan and El Khabar said.
The offensive was launched in the Kabylie region on Tuesday and was still going on, they said, citing security sources.
Liberte newspaper said one soldier was killed and one seriously wounded in the skirmishes, which took place in the past two days.
In a separate operation, the army killed three Islamic rebels late on Thursday in the western province of Saida, 435 km (270 miles) from Algiers, said Liberte and Le Soir d’Algerie.
The oil- and gas-exporting country has been on alert since a triple suicide bombing killed 33 people in Algiers on April 11.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC, claimed responsibility for the bombings.
The group said on Tuesday it would carry out more suicide bombings and urged Muslims to join its ranks as suicide bombers.
The death toll from political violence in Algeria jumped to a year high of an estimated 81 last month, including 28 Islamist rebels, compared with 45 killed in March, 18 in February and 21 in January, according to newspaper reports.
The figure raised fears that the north African nation might return to the intense political violence of the 1990s when tens of thousands of Islamist guerrillas fought the army to try to set up Islamic rule.
Conflict broke out in Algeria in 1992 after military-backed authorities scrapped parliamentary elections that an Islamist party was set to win. Up to 200,000 people have been killed in the bloodshed.