ALGIERS, Algeria – Algerian security services have thwarted a possible Sept. 11 terrorist attack in eastern Algeria, a security official and local media reported Thursday, as thousands of army troops and police conducted anti-terror sweeps throughout the North African country.
Several Algerian newspapers reported that a terrorist group was planning suicide bombings against a market, a police station and a security regional headquarters in the eastern town of El Oued near the border with Libya. The town is 400 miles southeast of Algiers, the capital.
Police were tipped off last week after the arrest of a senior militant who carried a map of the targets and a list of would-be suicide bombers, said Linda Nacer, a journalist with the respected Liberte newspaper.
A security official confirmed the arrest of the militant and said the target date for the suspected plot appeared to have been Thursday because of the symbolic value of a bombing on Sept. 11. He spoke on condition of anonymity because Algerian emergency laws forbid officers to discuss ongoing security matters.
The Algerian government would not confirm the arrest or anything about the suspected plot.
Asked about it Thursday, Algerian Communication Minister Abderrachid Boukerzaza said journalists should not "fall into the trappings of the terrorists, who are isolated and weakened and are seeking to make an impact in the media."
Last month, a string of suicide bombings, ambushes and gunbattles killed at least 107 people in Algeria, and there are near-daily reports of smaller-scale violence throughout the country.
Most of the attacks are claimed by Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa, an Algerian militant group left over from a civil war in the 1990s that joined Osama bin Laden's terror network on Sept. 11, 2006.
There are fears of a new attack this month because of the psychological impact it would have during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends this year on Sept. 30.
Boukerzaza said anti-terrorism operations were under way "in the whole country," but did not elaborate. Police and army checkpoints, however, were visible throughout the capital Thursday.
Algerian newspapers have reported that some 15,000 troops and police are conducting vast sweeps in the east of the country, where Al Qaeda’s local chief is thought to be hiding.
The Liberte newspaper said Thursday this included 10,000 security forces focused on the volatile area around Boumerdes, a town 35 miles east of Algiers.
Some 37 roadblocks and 20 checkpoints were set up Thursday on the highway from Boumerdes to Algiers, and 40 units were patrolling the main roads, the newspaper reported.