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Algerian soldiers killed in al-Qaeda-claimed ambush

Ministry of Defence confirms deaths of nine troops but al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb says death toll in Ain Defla attack was higher
Men leave the E'Rahma mosque after the prayer on 11 July 2015 in the Algerian capital Algiers (AFP)

Algeria's Ministry of Defence on Sunday confirmed the deaths of at least nine of its soldiers in an ambush southwest of Algiers, the Algerian capital, claimed by al-Qaeda's North African affiliate.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed the attack in an unverified statement posted online late on Saturday night and said that 14 soldiers had been killed in what appears be the deadliest attack on the army in over a year.

The El Khaber newspaper, citing security sources, reported earlier in the day that the troops had been killed by militants on the road to Tifran, a wooded area in the south of Ain Defla province, 140 kilometres (85 miles) from the capital.

The ambush took place on Friday night at the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

A statement published by the Ministry of Defence said that during "search operations in the Djebel Louh area in the Ain Defla province, a contingent of the National People's Army came under fire by a terrorist group [which] killed nine soldiers and wounded two."

The statement added: "Immediately after the attack, the area was immediately cordoned off by the army and searched thoroughly, [to] chase these criminals and to destroy their hideouts."

In its statement, AQIM said: "The knights of Islam have, on the first night of Eid, killed 14 soldiers in an ambush on an army platoon in the area of Djebel Louh," adding that the attackers managed to escape unharmed after seizing the dead troops' weapons.

This is the deadliest attack on Algeria's army since April 2014, when 15 soldiers were killed in the country's mountainous east.

The Ministry of Defence said last week that 102 hardline militants had been killed, captured or surrendered to security forces in the first half of 2015.

The Ain Defla region was considered a hub for militant groups during the 1990s, but there has been a drop in Islamist-linked violence in Algeria in recent years.

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