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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Canadian Company SNC-Lavalin Car bombed in Algeria

A dozen employees of Canada's SNC-Lavalin were killed in a car bombing in Algeria Wednesday, the latest in a wave of terrorist attacks that have targeted Canadian and Western companies in the North African country.

Fifteen staff of the Montreal-based engineering firm were also wounded in the early morning attack, which occurred when an explosive-laden vehicle struck their bus near a hotel entrance as the workers were on their way to the Koudiat Acerdoune water treatment plant.

A spokesperson for Canada's Foreign Affairs ministry said none of the dead or injured were Canadian citizens. All were believed to be Algerians locally employed by SNC-Lavalin, which said in a statement that "we strongly deplore this act of terrorism."

Canadian intelligence officials have been warning about the dangers to Canadians in Algeria, where a large number of Canadian companies operate despite car bombings, suicide attacks and a resurgent Islamist terrorist faction aligned with al-Qaeda.

"Terrorists have previously targeted Western interests, including Canadian interests, in Algeria," says a declassified Canadian intelligence report obtained by the National Post. "Canadian companies and individuals in Algeria have been attacked.

The report by the federal government's Integrated Threat Assessment Centre said guards protecting a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin were attacked by gunmen in April 2006. Eight months later, a Canadian was wounded when a bus carrying Western oil workers was attacked with small arms and improvised explosive devices, the report said.

"Al Qaeda has identified oil infrastructure and workers, especially Westerners, as legitimate and priority worldwide targets," says the report, titled The Al Qaeda Threat to Canadian Interests in Algeria and released under the Access to Information Act, "Canada is considered a legitimate target by al-Qaeda."

Although nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attack on the SNC-Lavalin employees, it is almost certainly the work of the Algerian branch of al-Qaeda, known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

The terrorist group, which wants to turn Algeria into an Islamic state, was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which was outlawed by Canada under the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2002.

The Canadian government describes the Salafist Group as "a radical Sunni Muslim group seeking to establish an Islamist government in Algeria" and says it targets foreigners and "has been affiliated to Osama bin Laden and groups financed by him."

Last weekend, following the killing of four aid workers near Kabul, the Taliban threatened more attacks against Canadians unless Ottawa pulled out of Afghanistan, but there is no indication Wednesday's bombing was related to that threat.

Algeria's Ambassador to Canada said in a recent interview, conducted before Wednesday's bombing, that the security situation in his country was not that bad.

"Like many countries, terrorist activism exists in Algeria but it is no longer a danger to the institutional, political or economic stability," Ambassador Smail Benamara said. "Concerning more particularly the situation of Canadians in Algeria, I can assure you that there are no specific risks."

Oil and gas fields in the south "enjoy specific safety precautions from the Algerian state. The interest and presence of Canadian companies in Algeria, such as Talisman Energy, Petro-Canada, First Calgary Petroleum and many others testify of this sector's vitality and the security of the workers of those companies, Canadian or others," the ambassador said.

SNC-Lavalin said in a statement that the health and safety of its employees was a "top priority." The engineering and construction group is building a water treatment plant near Bouira, 90 km southeast of the capital Algiers.

"In 50 years working worldwide, this is the first time that we have had a terrorist attack like this against us. It's a whole new ball game for us," said SNC-Lavalin spokesperson Gillian MacCormack, adding that the company was "saddened and a little stunned" by the events.

Ms. MacCormack said SNC-Lavalin has worked in Algeria for more than 30 years and had built a strong relationship with the community. The company employs 2000 people in the country, 800 of whom are dedicated to the water treatment and distribution plant. She said the company has a risk assessment process in place for every project.

A statement released by the company expressed "deepest sympathies to the families of the victims -- and to those who are currently being treated in a local hospital."

State radio said another bombing 15 minutes before the bus attack, had targeted a military commander inside an army barracks. Algeria, with a population of 34 million, is an OPEC member and a major oil and gas supplier to Europe. It is emerging from a more than decade-long conflict with Islamist rebels that has killed about 150,000 people since 1992.

The Rest @ National Post (Canada).

The Rest @

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