Islamist group says it carried out Algeria attack 

ALGIERS (Reuters) 

A militant Islamist group linked to al Qaeda on Monday claimed responsibility for the weekend bombing of a bus carrying foreign oil workers near Algiers, and warned of further attacks.

The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) claim came after the United States urged its citizens in Algeria to review their personal safety following Sunday's attack, the first on Westerners in the North African country in many years. 

"We reiterate our call to all Muslims in Algeria to keep away from the interests of the infidels to avoid harm ... once (these interests or individuals) are targeted," GSPC said in statement posted on the Internet. 

The authenticity of the statement, posted on a Web site used by Islamist militant groups on Monday, could not be verified. 

The attack in the upmarket Bouchaoui district, 10 km (six miles) west of Algiers, killed the Algerian driver and wounded nine people, including four Britons and an American.

Many Algerians and foreigners were alarmed that militants had managed to infiltrate one of the country's most secure areas. 

A Warden Notice for the estimated 800 U.S. expatriates said the U.S. embassy in the oil- and gas-exporting Arab country would be open for normal business "but is encouraging Americans in Algiers to review their security situation. "The Embassy will limit movements on December 11 to official business only while evaluating the situation." 

An existing U.S. travel warning says there is a significant security risk in many areas of Algeria, Africa's second largest country which is slowly pulling itself out of 14 years of conflict between Islamist rebels and government forces. 

Executives of Western oil companies said they were tightening security, but declined to give details. TIES TO AL QAEDA GSPC, which has ties with al Qaeda, urged Muslims to stay away from Western interests in Algeria.

In 2004, GSPC declared war on foreign people and companies. "We bring tidings to the crusaders and apostates that they will face what they dislike," it said in the statement. 

Islamists began an armed revolt in 1992 after the then military-backed authorities scrapped a parliamentary election that an Islamist political party, the Islamic Salvation Front, was set to win. Up to 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing bloodshed.

The violence has sharply subsided in the past few years. The bus was ferrying employees of Brown Root Condor, a joint venture of Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Root (KBR) and Condor Engineering, an affiliate of Algerian state energy group Sonatrach, when a bomb went off and gunmen opened fire. 

The authorities were working on two hypotheses. "If it is terrorism, that would indicate that the affiliate of Halliburton has been targeted for its role in Iraq. It has been seen as a firm that has hoarded Iraqi riches," a security source said. "If it is criminality, that would mean that the local mafia wants to block the opening of the economy and economic transparency. This mafia wants the status quo and to preserve monopoly situations."  

The government is trying to modernise the country's Soviet-style economy, long dominated by loss-making state banks notorious for mismanagement, graft and inefficiency.  

Brown Root Condor carries out work for the armed forces as well as for the energy industry in Algeria.  

Sporadic clashes between Islamist guerrillas and security forces normally take place in isolated rural areas.  But in October three people were killed in near-simultaneous truck bomb attacks on two police stations in what witnesses called the most elaborate assault by rebels in several years.  

The biggest foreign operator is U.S. Anadarko Petroleum Corp and the biggest foreign investor is Britain's BP. Other investors include Royal Dutch Shell BHP Billiton, ENI, Hess Corp and Repsol.   

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