ALGIERS (Reuters) - Islamic militants have killed at least 11 Algerian soldiers in an ambush on a patrol in mountains east of the capital Algiers, a security source said on Sunday, in one of the deadliest attacks on the military in years.
The troops were searching for militants in Tizi Ouzou region, 120 km (75 miles) east of Algiers, when they were attacked by fighters from al Qaeda's north African branch, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the source told Reuters.
Another 11 soldiers were wounded, the source said.
The attack came just days after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 77, was re-elected for a fourth term following a campaign that portrayed the aging leader as key to continued security for the North African OPEC state.
Since the end of its 1990s war with armed Islamists, attacks are rarer in Algeria. But Algerian officials are concerned about spillover from turmoil in neighboring Libya where fighters linked to al Qaeda have sought refuge in the remote southern deserts.
AQIM is mostly based in southern Algeria, but over the past few months the army has killed several militants in the northeastern mountains, and security sources say some have been found with weapons traced to Libya.
In January last year, militants raided Algeria's Amenas gas plant near Libya's border, killing 40 oil contractors, most of them foreigners, in an attack that prompted BP and Norway's Statoil to pull their workers out.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Rosalind Russell)