ALGIERS, Algeria – A bomb ripped through a crowd waiting for the Algerian president to arrive in an eastern town, killing at least 16 and wounding some 74 people, hospital and security officials said.
The bomb exploded about 45 minutes before President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's scheduled arrival in Batna, a town about 279 miles east of the capital, Algiers — and the last stop on the president's tour of eastern Algeria.
Local police said a man, aged 30-35, had carried the explosive device in a bag into the middle of the crowd, which was waiting in front of Batna's Al-Atik mosque
Onlookers alerted police after determining the man was behaving strangely, the officials said.
As police moved in toward the man, he threw down the bag and tried to flee, and the explosion went off, the officials said. It was not immediately clear whether he died or was wounded in the attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Bouteflika, who arrived after the blast, spoke briefly at the Batna airport, saying "the only solution was national concordance."
He was expected to speak further to the attack in a speech later Thursday, local television reported.
Coordinated terror attacks killed dozens of people on April 11, when bombs ripped through the Algerian prime minister's office and a police station in an Algiers suburb.
A new Al Qaeda wing claimed responsibility for the April bombings, saying they were carried out by suicide bombers in trucks packed with explosives.
The group, Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa, was built on the foundations of the Algerian insurgent group that fought to try to topple Algeria's secular government.
The insurgency broke out in 1992, and over the years an estimated 200,000 people — including militants, security forces and civilians — were killed.
The bombings were a devastating setback for the North African nation's efforts to close that violent chapter in its history.
On touching down at Batna's airport Bouteflika said Algeria was committed to its peace process and would forge ahead "no matter the price."
"This reconciliation, which does not exclude anyone," is part of "an effort for the reconstruction of Algeria, because without political stability there will be no economic and social development," he said.
Thursday's bombing comes just days before the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Analysts and security officials have been warning Al Qaeda could be plotting attacks around this period.
German authorities announced Thursday they had arrested three Islamic militants suspected of plotting massive bomb attacks.
On Tuesday, eight men — of Pakistani, Afghan, Somali and Turkish origin — were arrested in Denmark. Authorities said the men were linked to senior Al Qaeda leaders, but have not revealed what their targets were, or when they planned to strike.