Bombs kill at least 26 in Algeria
Branch of al-Qaida claims responsibility in Web posting

ALGIERS, Algeria - Truck bombs exploded minutes apart Tuesday in central Algiers, heavily damaging U.N. offices and partly ripping the facade off a government building. At least 26 people were killed, including U.N. workers, and scores were wounded, officials said.

The North African branch of al-Qaida claimed responsibility in a Web site posting and said suicide bombers carried out the attack. Jihadists in Iraq who later affiliated with al-Qaida were blamed for attacking the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, killing 22.

The two bombs exploded about

9:30 a.m., and one had deliberately targeted United Nations offices, according to the head of the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva. The other bomb struck outside Algeria's Constitutional Council, said Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni.

Al-Qaida-linked militants who were arrested after deadly April bombings in Algeria had identified those buildings as among their future targets, the official APS news agency quoted him as saying.

A small tanker truck was used in the U.N. attack, while a van used in the other bombing, he said.

A statement on a militant Web site said two 'martyrs' of al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa drove vehicles each loaded with more than 1,700 pounds of explosives 'to attack the headquarters of the international infidels' den' and the Algerian Constitutional Council.

'This is another successful conquest ... carried out by the Knights of the Faith with their blood in defense of the wounded nation of Islam,' said the statement.

The attacks killed 26 people, an Interior Ministry statement said, adding that the dead included two U.N. staffers - one Danish, the other Senegalese. Also among the dead were three people from Asia, although their nationalities were not given.

As many as 177 people were wounded.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in New York that five U.N. employees were believed to be among the dead. Ron Redmond, chief spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, said only two UNHCR staff members - both drivers from Algeria - were killed, and that more than a dozen workers were injured, one seriously. All missing employees were accounted for, he added.

Initial reports from hospital and rescue officials had put the death toll at 45.

UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres 'said he has no doubt that the U.N. was targeted,' according to Redmond. He added that 'it is a very small street that just separates a U.N. compound, and it happened right there.'

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the bombings as a 'cowardly strike' and ordered a review of security.

'This is just unacceptable,' said a somber Ban, who was in Bali, Indonesia, for a U.N. climate conference. 'I would like to condemn it in the strongest terms. It cannot be justified in any circumstances.'

The Bush administration added its denunciation.

'We condemn this attack on the United Nations office by these enemies of humanity who attack the innocent. The United States stands with the people of Algeria, as well as the United Nations as they deal with this senseless violence,' said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.