ALGIERS, Algeria — Al-Qaida-linked militants ambushed a convoy of Algerian police escorting Chinese construction workers near a highway building site, killing at least 19 people and wounding several others, a local official and Algerian newspapers said Thursday.
The ambush occurred late Wednesday on the main road linking Algiers, the capital, to eastern Algeria, according to the En-Nahar and Es-Chourouk newspapers.
Militants triggered at least two roadside bombs to block a convoy of six police cars driving past El Mehir, 130 miles (210 kilometers) east of Algiers.
The gunmen then showered the police with bullets before stealing their weapons and uniforms. The newspapers said at least 21 police officers were killed.
A local official told The Associated Press that 23 Gendarmerie paramilitary police had died and five were hospitalized in the town of Bordj Bou Arreridj, 150 miles (245 kilometers) east of Algiers.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because an Algerian emergency law forbids local officials from discussing security matters.
The government-run APS news agency reported later Thursday that only 18 police and one civilian had been killed. It did not specify the civilian's nationality. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in the death toll. APS said six police and two civilians were injured.
The local official said the Chinese construction workers, who were building a segment of Algeria's east-west highway, had not yet joined the convoy when it was attacked.
There was no immediate report of casualties among the gunmen.
Algerian authorities have made no official comment on the attack, and calls to the Chinese consulate in Algeria were not answered.
Algerian militants are leftover from a civil war between radical Islamists and government forces that killed up to 200,000 people during the 1990's.
Violence has since largely abated, but hard-liners joined Osama bin Laden's terror network in 2006 under the name al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. They regularly target government forces and have tried to step up attacks against foreigners.
Last week, five AQIM militants were killed near Constantine, 270 miles (430 kilometers) from Algiers, farther east on the highway the Chinese construction workers are building.
Associated Press writer Aomar Ouali contributed to this report.