(Ouahab Hebbat ~ Associated Press)
ALGIERS, Algeria -- A car bomb exploded near a police station in a town east of the Algerian capital Wednesday, killing at least four officers and ripping off the building's facade, witnesses said. An Arab broadcaster reported that an al-Qaida branch claimed responsibility for the suicide attack.
The blast followed twin suicide bombings Dec. 11 at U.N. offices and a government building that killed at least 37 people in the capital of Algiers.
A journalist and another resident in the city of Naciria said the car sped toward the police station and exploded. The two, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared for their safety, said the attack appeared to be a suicide bombing.
The Interior Ministry said the attack killed at least four police officers and injured 20, including eight police officers. The ministry provided no details other than to say that the bombing was near the police station in the town about 45 miles east of Algiers.
The explosion tore off the front of the police station and damaged neighboring buildings. Security forces cordoned off the rubble-strewn ruins.
Al-Arabiya satellite TV reported that al-Qaida's North Africa branch had claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. The group, known as al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, emerged from an alliance between Osama bin Laden's international terrorist network and an Algerian Islamist movement known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat.
The suicide bombings in December and others in April also were claimed by al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa.
Security forces have been on maximum alert since earlier this week, after three trucks were stolen in the Algiers region, the newspaper Liberte reported Wednesday. The vehicles included a fuel tanker, and officials fear they might be used in suicide attacks, the report said.
Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa has increasing used vehicles packed with explosives to deliver its strikes. In July, a suicide bomber blew up a truck inside a military barracks southeast of Algiers, killing 10 soldiers. Two months later, at least 28 people died after an explosives-packed vehicle rammed into a coast guard barracks in the northern town of Dellys.
Meanwhile Wednesday, Le Soir newspaper said security forces have detained the mastermind behind the April 11 attacks that hit the Algerian prime minister's office and a police station, killing 33 people.
Police picked up the 28-year-old suspect at his Algiers home overnight Saturday, the report cited an unidentified security official as saying. The official said the suspect chose the targets, recruited the suicide bombers and bought the substances used to make the explosives. It was not clear whether he was implicated in any other attacks, the newspaper said.
Officials with national security forces declined to comment on the report.
Algeria's Islamic insurgency broke out in the early 1990s, when the army canceled the second round of the country's first multiparty elections to prevent likely victory by an Islamic fundamentalist party. Armed groups then turned to force to overthrow the government, and up to 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing violence.
Until recently, the insurgency had been dying down, with militants' ranks dwindling after military crackdowns and amnesty offers. But in late 2006, the main Algerian militant group allied with al-Qaida and began to wage larger-scale bombings and target foreigners -- signs that Islamic fighters were regrouping.