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New York Times: U.S. Reviews Security After Algeria Bombing: ‘bus carrying foreign oil workers was bombed’

By REUTERS
Published: December 11, 2006
Filed at 4:35 a.m. ET

ALGIERS (Reuters) – The United States embassy urged Americans in Algeria to check their personal security on Monday after a bus carrying foreign oil workers was bombed in the first attack on Western expatriates in many years.

A Warden Notice for the estimated 800 U.S. expatriates said the embassy in the oil- and gas-exporting north African nation would be open for normal business “but is encouraging Americans in Algiers to review their security situation.

“The Embassy will limit movements on December 11 to official business only while evaluating the situation.”

An existing U.S. travel warning says there is a significant security risk in many areas of Algeria, Africa’s second largest country which is slowly pulling itself out of 14 years of conflict between Islamist rebels and government forces.

Sunday’s attack in the upmarket Bouchaoui district, 10 km (six miles) west of Algiers, killed the Algerian driver and wounded nine people, including four Britons and an American, authorities said.

Some expatriate oil executives said they would step up security as a result of the late afternoon attack.

Residents said the bus was ferrying employees of Brown Root Condor, a joint venture of Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Root and Condor Engineering, an affiliate of Algerian state energy group Sonatrach.

A security source said the authorities were working on two hypotheses.

“If it is terrorism, that would indicate that the affiliate of Halliburton has been targeted for its role in Iraq. It has been seen as a firm that has hoarded Iraqi riches,” the source said.

“If it is criminality, that would mean that the local mafia wants to block the opening of the economy and economic transparency. This mafia wants the status quo and to preserve monopoly situations.”

The government is trying to modernize the country’s Soviet-style command economy, long dominated by loss-making state banks notorious for mismanagement, graft and inefficiency.

The bombing took place in a heavily protected neighborhood that is home to some government ministers as well as the Sheraton Hotel, where several foreign firms have their offices.

ELABORATE ASSAULT

Some residents spoke of a gunman who got out of a car parked at the curb as the bus approached and opened fire at the vehicle and its occupants.

Sporadic clashes between Islamist guerrillas and security forces normally take place in isolated rural areas.

On October 30, three people were killed and 24 wounded in near-simultaneous truck bomb attacks on two Algerian police stations, in what witnesses called the most elaborate assault by Islamist rebels in several years.

The apparently coordinated overnight blasts in Reghaia town 30 km (20 miles) east of the capital and the eastern Algiers suburb of Dergana were the first bombings of police stations in Africa’s second largest country for more than five years.

Islamists began an armed revolt in 1992 after the then military-backed authorities, fearing an Iran-style revolution, scrapped a parliamentary election that an Islamist political party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was set to win.

Up to 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing bloodshed. The violence has sharply subsided in the past few years.

The biggest foreign operator is U.S. Anadarko Petroleum Corp and the biggest foreign investor is Britain’s BP.

Other investors include Royal Dutch Shell BHP Billiton, ENI, Hess Corp and Repsol.

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