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Death toll in Algeria blasts rises to 37

December 15, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. raised the death toll of staffers killed in the car bombing of its Algiers headquarters to 17 on Friday, after rescue workers found more bodies under rubble.

The discovery brings the total killed in Tuesday's terrorist attacks to 37, according to Algeria's Interior Ministry. A group called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has ties to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, claimed responsibility for the dual suicide bombings at a court building and the U.N. compound.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said "words cannot do justice to the grief I feel" and pledged to ensure adequate security for U.N. staff wherever they serve.

"This was an attack not only against the United Nations, not only against Algerians, but against humankind itself," Ban said, speaking from Southeast Asia.

Two senior U.N. officials are in Algiers to help victims' families and assess how the world body's aid agencies based there can safely continue their work.

Of the 17 staffers killed, 14 were Algerian, and the other three were from Denmark, the Philippines and Senegal. The victims came from eight different agencies, with nine from the U.N. Development Program.

The attack is the most severe against the U.N. since the 2003 suicide bombing of its Baghdad headquarters, which killed 22 people, including veteran diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello. After that attack, the U.N. withdrew most of its staff from Iraq and tried to upgrade security at its offices around the world.

The U.N. has gradually increased its presence in Iraq to 65 staffers, but Tuesday's attack renewed the debate about the risks employees face in doing humanitarian work.

The U.N.'s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, said this week that aid workers, once considered neutral, have become targets in many countries where they are trying to help people. This year has been the most dangerous ever for humanitarian staffers working in Sudan.

Security measures were heightened this week at the world body's New York headquarters. On Friday, police closed off two lanes of traffic in front of the U.N. building and erected an "eyes in the sky" tower with 360-degree cameras, citing intelligence that U.N. facilities everywhere are considered targets.

On Thursday, an apparently abandoned package in front of the building caused the street to be closed and the headquarters locked down until the bag's owner claimed it.

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

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