Algerian security forces used air-to-ground missiles fired from helicopters to kill 18 armed Islamic extremists in a major operation against insurgents last week, the newspaper El-Youm reported on Sunday.
The sweep in Jijel region, east of Algiers, was launched after extremists had killed nine communal guards in an ambush in the same region.
Army units backed by communal guards and armed civilians used heavy arms and air-to-ground missiles fired from helicopters to dislodge insurgents hidden in rough terrain some 300 kilometers (180 miles) from the capital, the report said.
El-Youm said the extremists killed in the operation between Tuesday and Thursday of last week had belonged to a group called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) led by rebel leader Hassan Hattab, which has rejected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's moves towards national reconciliation.
The report of the latest killings could not be confirmed independently.
Other press reports said a communal guard had been killed and four other people wounded in separate attacks by extremists on Friday and Saturday.
Since the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, on November 27, at least 180 people have died in violence in Algeria, most of them members of the government forces and armed insurgents, according to estimates from press reports.
Insurgency by fundamentalist groups has claimed at least 100,000 lives since they took up arms in 1992 after the army called off the second round of elections the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to win.
In July 1999, Bouteflika offered a six-month amnesty on specific conditions to armed groups, which led hundreds of fighters to turn themselves in.
He has ordered the security forces to crack down mercilessly on those who failed to take up the offer -- ALGIERS (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )