ALGIERS (REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST) - More than 250 people including members of Western Sahara’s Polisario independence movement were killed when a military plane crashed in a field outside Algeria’s capital on Wednesday (April 11), officials said.
Television footage showed crowds gathering around the smoking and flaming wreckage near Boufarik airport southwest of Algiers.
A line of white body bags could be seen on the ground next to what media said was a Russian-built Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane.
A total of 257 people died in the crash, state TV reported.
A member of Algeria’s ruling FLN party told the private Ennahar TV station the dead included 26 members of Polisario, an Algerian-backed group fighting for the independence of neighbouring Western Sahara – a territory also claimed by Morocco in a long-running dispute.
The plane was heading to Tindouf, an area on Algeria’s border with Western Sahara, but crashed on the airport’s perimeter, Algeria’s defence ministry said.
Tindouf is home to thousands of refugees from the Western Sahara standoff, many of them Polisario supporters.
UN attempts to broker a settlement have failed for years in the vast desert area, which has contested since 1975 when Spanish colonial powers left. Morocco claimed the territory while Polisario established its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic there.
Algeria’s defence ministry issued a statement expressing condolences to families of the victims.
The Ilyushin Il-76 was first built in the 1970s and used as a transport plane often in rugged underdeveloped parts of the world and has the ability to use unpaved runways.
In February 2014, another Algerian military transport plane, this time a US-built C-130, crashed into a snowy mountain in eastern
Algeria killing 77 people with just a single survivor. Some of the victims of that crash were civilians as military dependents often used the planes to travel as well as troops.
In 2003, another Algerian C-130 transport crashed when its engine caught fire near the Boufarik air base, killing 10 people.