ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) – Islamic militants ambushed a military convoy in northeast Algeria and attacked families near the capital, in a bloody weekend of killings that claimed at least 56 lives, Algerian media reported yesterday.

The ambush Saturday night reportedly killed 43 soldiers and seriously wounded 19, the deadliest assault suffered by the Algerian military in at least five years.

In the other attack, Islamic militants killed 13 people from two families overnight Saturday in Zabana, 30 miles south of the capital Algiers, the official news agency APS reported, citing security services.

It attributed the attack to the Armed Islamic Group, the north African country’s most radical insurgency.

The killings dealt a blow to claims by Algeria’s military-backed government that it is winning its decade-old battle against Islamic extremists.

Military leaders claimed in October there were only 600 to 650 militants still operating across the country.

The military convoy was ambushed in the village of Theniet el-Abed, 200 miles southeast of Algiers, the Le Matin newspaper reported.

The mountainous region is a stronghold of the extremist Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC.

The GSPC is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations and reportedly has links with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network.

Le Matin said the attackers detonated devices made from bottles of explosive acetylene gas, which is commonly used in metal welding. The 43 dead were soldiers or members of Algeria’s civilian defense force, Le Matin said, citing hospital officials.

Military authorities and hospital officials in Batna, near where the attack occurred, refused yesterday to comment on the report.

More than 120,000 people have been killed in more than a decade of civil strife in Algeria, where Islamic militants have staged massacres ever since they were shut of out parliamentary elections in 1992. At the insurgency’s peak in 1997, violence claimed 1,200 lives during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan alone.

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