(NSI News Source Info) ALGIERS - March 2, 2009: Security forces have killed 120 militants linked to Al Qaeda in Algeria over the past six months and arrested 322, the government said yesterday. Speaking at a police academy diploma ceremony in the capital, Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni attributed the results to increased security efforts in the North African country since August, when Al Qaeda's local offshoot claimed responsibility for a series of suicide bombings that left more than 100 people dead. An Algerian policeman and a bomb disposal expert walk around the site of a bomb attack which took place in front of a hotel in the town of Bouira, in eastern Algeria. Two car bomb attacks in eastern Algeria killed at least 11 people, state radio reported with the country still in shock from a suicide bomber who killed 43 people a day earlier. There was no immediate claim of responsibility but an Al-Qaeda group has staged several attacks in Algeria over the past year and has been involved in clashes with government forces in the oil and gas-rich state. Zerhouni said another 22 militants gave themselves up, and 150 weapons have been seized. Those in custody include some high-ranking militant chiefs, such as Ali Bentouati - a senior "emir," or commander, for central Algeria. He surrendered to police in January. The minister said police, paramilitary, intelligence, and military forces worked together to fend off a resurgent Islamist militancy in Algeria. The security sweeps are mainly due to "a better penetration of terror support networks and terrorist groups," Zerhouni was quoted as saying by APS, the state news agency. "This is the proof of evolving intelligence techniques." He also said enhanced collaboration with former militants, who are offered amnesty if they turn themselves in, was bearing fruit. Some 2,000 militants have surrendered since 2005, when the program began. The local branch of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for nine attacks in February that it said killed or wounded 47 people, mainly security forces. Authorities and Algerian media have reported a lower toll.
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