Islamist rebels ambushed a military convoy in Algeria and killed at least 18 police, local sources told AFP on Thursday.
The convoy was returning to barracks at Bordj Bou Arreridj, southeast of Algiers, after escorting Chinese construction workers to a motorway project, when it came under attack last evening, the sources said.
The local sources told AFP at least 18 paramilitary police had been killed, while two newspapers put the number at 24.
One newspaper, Echourouk, reported that the rebels set off two roadside bombs and then opened fire on the gendarmes, killing them and then stealing their weapons and uniforms.
The ambush was not immediately confirmed by the Algerian authorities but a vast security operation has been launched in region.
The attack was said to have taken place on the road from Constantine to Annaba, two major cities in eastern Algeria.
The Chinese group CITIC-CRCC has a contract to build a section of motorway from Algiers to Bordj Bou Arreridj.
If confirmed the attack would be one of the biggest by Islamists in Algeria for several months.