ALGIERS, Algeria – Soldiers launched a major assault on a hideout of Islamic insurgents, killing 19 militants, including the regional emir, or leader, the Algerian press reported Monday.
Some 800 soldiers, police and communal guards, or government-armed militia, took part in the assault Sunday near Annaba, some 370 miles east of Algiers, the capital, according to the daily newspaper Liberte.
The group targeted was affiliated with the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC, which has refused an amnesty offer put forth in a peace plan by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that is meant to reconcile this nation divided by more than a dozen years of violence.
Liberte reported that the regional emir of the group, identified as Merouani, 40, was among those killed.
There was no official comment on the operation, and it was not known whether any troops also were killed. Algerian authorities rarely comment on military operations to snuff out the insurgency.
Intense bombing was carried out a day ahead of the assault on the hideout in the Edough Mont, newspapers said. Operations were continuing, with the army reportedly determined to clean up the region, papers said.
An estimated 150,000 people — Islamists, civilians, military — have died since the start of the insurgency in 1992, triggered by the army's decision to cancel legislative elections that an Islamic fundamentalist party was poised to win.
Sporadic violence continued despite a return to calm in cities and most regions.