Eight slain, baby strangled in Algeria


SUSPECTED Islamic militants killed eight people, including a baby, in the latest night attack on an isolated community outside Algiers, Algerian security forces said yesterday.

The reported killings capped another week of bloodshed during which Algeria's most powerful union leader, Mr Abdelhak Benhamouda, and a retired general were killed.

They coincided with warnings from Algeria's most ruthless rebel movement, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), of more attacks soon on Algerian figures.

Nearly 200 people have been killed in Algeria since the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan started on January 10th, with some Algerian newspapers putting the figure at more than 250.

In their statement yesterday, security officials said on the night of Wednesday and Thursday eight people in the farming community of Sidi Kaddour were "assassinated in a cowardly way" - the term the Algerian authorities normally use for killings in which the victims have their throats cut.

"This barbarous act did not exclude a baby of 13 months who was strangled by the criminals," said the statement, carried on the official Algerian news agency, APS. Algerian officials use the" term "criminals" to describe Muslim militants.

On Tuesday in the centre of the Algerian capital, four gunmen killed the powerful UGTA trade union leader Mr Benhamouda. The authorities' blamed Muslim rebels for killing Mr Benhamouda, a political ally of President Liamine Zeroual.

Shortly after his funeral on Thursday, killers struck in the western Algerian city of Oran, killing a retired general who had been a powerful figure under two previous presidents.

The massacre followed a series of attacks in which car bombs and other explosives have blasted Algeria's cities, while axes, knives and guns have left a trail of blood in rural communities.

The site of the killing of the eight villagers lies in Sidi Moussa district, whose provincial capital, Blida, is 50km south of Algiers. Blida is headquarters of the Algiers military district and a stronghold of Islamic militants.