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Algerian Rebels Say They Killed Union Chieftain

<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

A little-known militant Muslim group thought to be rooted in Algeria’s educated upper class has claimed responsibility for killing the country’s top union leader, newspapers reported Saturday.

The claim by the Algerian Jihad Islamic Front (FIDA) could not be independently verified. Police have refused all comment on the investigation.

The death Tuesday of Abdelhak Benhamouda, an ally of the military-backed government of President Liamine Zeroual, was the most recent high-profile slaying since a Muslim insurgency began five years ago.

“The FIDA announces its responsibility in the attack which targeted Abdelhak Benhamouda, a man who placed himself in the service of the military junta,” said an FIDA statement carried by leading newspapers.

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In the statement, signed by the group’s military commander in Algiers, Ahmed abu Elfida, the group vowed to stage more attacks against the government and its supporters.

The Algerian Jihad Islamic Front has received little mention since its creation in 1991. It is thought to represent a sort of aristocracy among Muslim militants, its ranks reportedly filled with members of the educated elite. Most insurgents are drawn from the poor underclass.

The Armed Islamic Group, the most radical faction in the insurgency, had threatened a “bloody Ramadan” and is generally considered responsible for much of the recent bloodshed.

Since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began Jan. 10, bombings and massacres blamed on Islamic militants have killed nearly 200 people, according to official figures. Algerian newspapers put the figure at more than 250.

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State-run companies marked Benhamouda’s death with a slowdown by workers Saturday, a workday here. Private-sector employees worked normal hours.

Algerian radio said that, beginning Wednesday--in a ban aimed at thwarting Muslim rebel car bomb attacks in the capital--vehicles will no longer be allowed to stop in the streets of Algiers between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.


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