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Death toll reaches 31 in Algeria, authorities searching for more bodies

Thirty-one people were killed in twin truck bombings by an affiliate of al-Qaida that targeted U.N. offices and a government building in Algiers, but emergency workers continue searching for victims and survivors.

Some estimates of the final death toll from Tuesday's attacks climbed well above the official Algerian government figures, with a hospital official saying at least 60 were killed and Algeria's independent daily El Watan saying up to 72 were killed and 200 wounded.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that 31 people died, and the foreign minister said five of the victims were foreigners. Rescue workers were digging for victims beneath the remains of gutted buildings.

Five or six people were believed to remain under the rubble Wednesday, according to the Civil Protection agency, the official APS news agency said. It was unclear whether they were alive.

At least 11 U.N. workers, possibly more, were killed, U.N. officials said.

The attacks - and their choice to target the United Nations - drew swift international condemnation. Algeria has been battling Islamic insurgents for 15 years, but until now they had focused on symbols of Algeria's military-backed government and civilians.

"Algerians are completely united against terrorism," Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said on France's Europe-1 radio, insisting that the attacks did not portend "civil war."

Asked about the possibility of attacks elsewhere in North Africa, he said: "It's everyone who is targeted, sooner or later."

U.N. officials in Geneva said it was the worst single attack against United Nations staff and facilities since August 2003, when the global body's headquarters in Baghdad were hit by a truck laden with explosives. That attack killed 22 people, including the top U.N. envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and was blamed on al-Qaida fighters in Iraq.

After Tuesday's attack in Algiers, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate review of U.N. security in Algeria and elsewhere. The U.N. refugee agency's chief spokesman, Ron Redmond, said the agency's work was continuing Wednesday in refugee camps in southern Algeria.

One of the U.N victims was Danish, and another was a Philippine employee of the World Food Program, Danish and U.N. officials said.

Terrorists striking the U.N. headquarters "want to try to chase the international community out," Danish Prime Minister Per Stig Moeller said Wednesday.

Families of the missing stood nearby outside police cordons surrounding the sites of the blasts, waiting for news of their relatives. Rescue workers dug into rubble and hoisted chunks out with cranes while maintenance workers swept up soot.

A major Algerian hospital held a blood drive, and dozens of people lined up outside in the morning to give blood for those injured in the bombing.

The U.N. offices are in the upscale Hydra neighborhood of Algiers, which houses many foreign embassies and has a substantial foreign population. The U.S. and British embassies stepped up security warnings. The French Embassy said that though violence had largely died down in recent years, "recent attacks show that it is time for a return to the most extreme prudence."

"The renewed threat by al-Qaida against French interests in North Africa cannot be ignored," the embassy said on its Web site.

Al-Qaida has called for attacks on French and Spanish interests in North Africa. French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Algeria last week.

Al-Qaida's self-styled North African branch, in a posting on a militant Web site, said two suicide bombers attacked the buildings Tuesday with trucks carrying 800 kilograms (1,760 pounds) of explosives each.

It described the U.N. offices as "the headquarters of the international infidels' den." The other target, Algeria's Constitutional Council, rules on the constitutionality of laws and oversees elections.

Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said the government was "certain" that al-Qaida's North Africa affiliate - formerly known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, or GSPC - "was behind the attack."

Militants arrested after previous bombings in April had identified the U.N. offices and the council building as future targets, Zerhouni said, according to the official APS news agency. A light tanker was used in the U.N. attack, and a light van in the other, he said.

Al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa is thought to have only several hundred fighters but has resisted Algerian security sweeps. Its members have rejected amnesty offers and have turned their sights from toppling the government to waging holy war and fighting Western interests.

Algeria has been battling Islamic insurgents since the early 1990s, when the army canceled the second round of the country's first multiparty elections, stepping in to prevent likely victory by an Islamic fundamentalist party.

Islamist armed groups then turned to force to overthrow the government, with up to 200,000 people killed in the ensuing violence.

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