ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Islamist insurgents ambushed an Algerian military convoy in a mountainous region, killing 11 soldiers and wounding five others, the Defense Ministry said Sunday.
But five other deaths from injuries reported by a hospital official could raise the toll to 16 in the attack that came two days after Algeria's presidential election.
The attack near the village of Iboudraren began at Saturday night as an army detachment returned to its base in Tizi Ouzou, capital of the mountainous Kabylie region east of Algiers, according to a ministry statement carried by the official APS news agency.
APS reported earlier that 14 soldiers had been killed — 11 immediately and another three succumbing to their wounds. An official at the Bordj Menaiel Hospital said later two more soldiers died Sunday afternoon. The official, not authorized to speak publicly, couldn't be named.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but suspicion falls on al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, whose fighters are holed up in the Kabylie region, some 60 miles (kilometers) from the capital.
A local official said a large group of insurgents hid on both sides of the road and opened fire with automatic weapons as the military bus drove by. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Security forces surrounded the zone, killing three extremists, the ministry said.
The soldiers were returning from securing polling stations for last Thursday's presidential election, which the government said was won in a landslide by the 77-year-old incumbent, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The Kabylie region has been the site of past clashes, including one three years ago, also in April, that killed at least 13 soldiers at an army post during a touted presidential speech on electoral reform, watched by many soldiers. That attack was claimed by the Algeria-based al-Qaida affiliate.
Algeria fought a 10-year civil war against Islamic insurgents in the 1990s after the army canceled a parliamentary election an Islamic party had been poised to win. Bouteflika has been credited with bringing peace to this North African nation.
The Kabylie mountains are populated by Berbers, North Africa's original inhabitants, who have long been disaffected from the central government. The region near Saturday's attack had the lowest participation rate in the presidential election in the entire country.
The Defense Ministry, in a tally issued Sunday, said 37 extremists had been killed in the first three months of 2014 — 22 of them in March and the majority in Kabylie. Scores of weapons, including some land-to-air missiles were recovered and dozens of hideouts and bomb factories destroyed, the ministry said.
Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.