The North African wing of al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for two deadly bombings that rocked Algeria Wednesday, reports say.
Arabic broadcaster Al-Jazeera showed a newsflash reporting that a spokesman from the terrorist organization phoned the news network with the claim.
The two successive bomb blasts, one of which struck the prime minister's office, killed at least 23 people and wounded about 160, Algeria's official news agency reported.
Al-Qaeda in Islamic North Africa went formerly by the name Salafist Group for Call and Combat. On a website posting Wednesday, the group also claimed responsibility for Tuesday's suicide bombings in Morocco.
Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem was not hurt in theblasts in downtown Algiers. Speaking to reporters later, hecalledthe attacks a"cowardly, criminal terrorist act."
Witnessessaid theysaw bodies of dead and badly injured people being taken out on stretchers, and reports of death tolls were rising.
The APS news service reported at least nine people were killed and 32 injured in the 10:50 a.m. blast at the government building in the capital of Algiers.
Minutes later, a second explosion tore through the Bab Ezzouar police station just east of Algiers, killing at leasteight others and wounding 50, APS said. Not much else was known about the second bombing.
Standing in the rubble outside the government offices, Belkhadem expressed bitterness at insurgents who refused offers of amnesty from the government if they turned in their weapons.
"The Algerian people stretched out a hand to them, and they respond with a terrorist act," he said. He declined to say how many were dead or wounded.
Charred car outside building gates
It appeared as though several floors in the 15-storey government building were demolished by the bombing.
The force of the blast was so powerful it twisted the iron on the gates outside and some witnesses told reporters they could hear the blast from as far away as 10 kilometres.
Although a blackened, destroyed car lay just 30 metres from the entrance to the government offices, it was not clear whether the vehicle was involved in the attack.
Orange police tape cordoned off the steps leading up and into the building as paramedics raced the wounded for treatment.
Wednesday's attacks were a devastating setback for the North African nation's efforts to close the chapter on Islamic insurgency that has killed 200,000 people. After years of relative calm, an al-Qaeda affiliate has recently waged several smaller attacks:
- A March 3 bombing of a bus carrying workers for a Russian company killed a Russian engineer and three Algerians.
- In December, an attack near Algiers and targeting a bus carrying foreigners who worked for an affiliate of Halliburton killed an Algerian and a Lebanese citizen.
On Tuesday, the neighbouring North African nation of Morocco was also the scene of suicide bombings, stoking fears of a growing al-Qaeda movement in the region. Three peopleblew themselves up in a Casablanca slum and a fourth man was shot dead by police before he could detonate his explosives.