Algerian Gov't Moves to Block Muslim Fundamentalists From Quake Recovery Effort

Demolition teams took over for rescue workers in some areas as hope dwindled Monday for finding more survivors in Algeria's devastating earthquake as the government moved to block Muslim fundamentalists from aiding in the recovery effort.

As of Monday, the number of dead stood at 2,217, with another 9,087 injured, Algerian national radio reported, citing the Interior Ministry. One newspaper reported that an estimated 2,000 people were still missing.

Demolition teams began carting off debris from several devastated areas. Thousands of people left homeless by Wednesday's quake woke up from a fifth night of sleeping on the streets.

Interior Minister Yazid Noureddine Zerhouni ordered security forces to "block irregular collections"of aid. The ban did not mention particular groups but was widely understood to refer to Islamic associations that helped the needy in past disasters.

Muslim fundamentalists excelled in providing aid during the November 2001 flooding in Algiers (search) that killed more than 700 people.

But residents in quake-hit areas like the town of Thenia, once a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism now in ruins, said such groups have not been active in giving aid.

The government has said it believes that the fundamentalists have links to the extremist Islamic groups in Algeria have been battling the government for more than a decade with bombings and killing of government soldiers, officials and civilians.

The violence began in 1992 after the army scrapped general elections a Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win. More than 120,000 people have died in the insurgency.

"The population should be vigilant" against irregular collections, the minister said.

Many people dismissed the warning as a government ploy to divert attention from widespread anger over what they said were tardy and inadequate rescue efforts after the quake ripped through towns east of the capital Algiers last Wednesday.

"I don't think people are thinking about politics right now. We are just trying to survive," said Slimane Chabbi, a 59-year-old retired teacher of French. "Islamists will always take opportunities like these, but here, people just want to work and eat."

The Islamic insurgency has lost some potency in recent years since the government offered an amnesty to rebels who disarm.

"There is no terrorism here any longer, they (militants) fled to the mountains," said a 25-year-old in Thenia who would only give his name as Samir.

"The government invents things because it doesn't do anything," he said, standing outside his demolished apartment bloc with dozens of people nodding in agreement.

Many survivors also blame shoddy construction for the collapse of many newer buildings, and have called for the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (search).

Housing Minister Mohamed Nadir Hamimidi said in an interview published Monday that the government would investigate whether weak construction contributed to the destruction and hunt down and determine those who are to blame.

Between 150 and 200 construction inspectors are combing stricken areas to determine whether buildings are safe, require repairs or need tearing down, said Zahir Chettab of the CTC, the government construction authority.

Countless bodies remain under the rubble, decaying and endangering the health of survivors camped amid ruins. The spread of disease was a constant concern. No epidemics, however, have broken out, and health officials say they are well-prepared.

A strong aftershock rocked Boumerdes and was felt in Algiers Monday evening, sending panicked residents into the streets. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries.

Hopes of finding people alive in the wreckage was close to zero Monday.

"After 100 hours, it would be a miracle to find anybody alive," said Capt. Bernhard Traxl of the Austrian Forces Disaster Relief Unit. His teams were trying to remove three bodies from the rubble in Boumerdes.