ALGIERS, Algeria – Police rolled out in force in Algeria's capital Thursday as the death toll from Al Qaeda-claimed suicide bombings rose to 33, the government said.
Another 57 people remained hospitalized with injuries from the two blasts Wednesday that targeted the prime minister's office and a police station, said Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni, quoted by the official news agency APS after visiting hospitals.
Wednesday's bombings lent credence to fears that Al Qaeda's new wing in North Africa is coalescing into a deadly, possibly region-wide, threat.
They were the deadliest attacks by Al Qaeda, its regional arms or affiliates in non-insurgency areas since hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan in November 2005 killed 60 people, according to Ben Venzke, head of the IntelCenter, a U.S. government contractor that monitors Al Qaeda messaging.
Late Wednesday, the news agency had said 24 people were killed and 222 injured in the blasts.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika held an emergency meeting with senior officials to find ways to "neutralize" terrorists' abilities to inflict harm, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem said, according to APS.
"Such criminal acts are meant to plunge Algeria back into the crisis years," Belkhadem said, referring to the country's Islamic insurgency, which broke out in 1992. An estimated 200,000 people — militants, security forces and civilians — died in the violence, which has sharply fallen off since the late 1990s.
Belkhadem said Wednesday that legislative elections would proceed as planned on May 17. Parts of six floors of the building housing his office and those of the Interior Ministry were ripped away, and iron gates outside were bent by the blast.
Police erected multiple checkpoints on major Algiers thoroughfares on Thursday and blocked off access to the prime minister's damaged office as construction crews began reconstruction. Western countries reduced embassy services and urged their citizens to avoid traveling on predictable routes.
The group that claimed responsibility, Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa, was built on the foundations of a decade-old Algerian insurgency group fighting the nation's secular government.
The new Al-Qaida wing posted pictures, names and details of the bombings on an Islamic web site known as a clearinghouse for extremist groups' material. The site claimed the attacker, identified as Mouaz bin Jabl, used 1,500 pounds of explosives for the attack on the prime minister's office. The claim could not be independently verified.
The group has carried out a series of recent bombings jeopardizing Algeria's tentative peace. The country, a staunch U.S. ally in the war against terror, has been trying to recover from the 15-year insurgency.
Until recently, Algeria's peace efforts seemed successful: Military crackdowns and amnesty offers had turned militants into a ragtag assembly of fighters in rural hideouts.
But late last year, the main Algerian militant group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known by the French abbreviation GSPC, changed its name to Al Qaeda in Islamic North Africa and began targeting foreigners — signs the dwindling ranks of Islamic fighters were regrouping.
Algeria's neighbors have felt an increase in terror activity. Courts in Tunisia, to the east, in recent months convicted at least two dozen suspects on terrorism-related charges — many said to be linked to the Algeria-based network. In January, at least 14 people were killed in Tunisia in clashes between Islamist extremists and security forces.
In Morocco, to the west, three suspected terrorists blew themselves up and a fourth was shot and killed in a police raid on Tuesday in Casablanca, the country's largest city.
Moroccan Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa said Wednesday that investigators have not found any links between the Casablanca violence and that in Algeria, but "we don't rule it out." He said "three or four" suspects were still being sought in the Casablanca case.