Military Plane Crash Is Algeria’s Worst Air Disaster, With 257 Dead

The plane was headed to Bechar, in the southwest of the country, but was scheduled to stop in Tindouf, an area on Algeria’s border with the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Algeria is a longtime backer of Polisario, the group that has been fighting since 1973 for independence for Western Sahara, which is controlled by Morocco.

The crash came two days after a public appearance by Algeria’s president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, prompted speculation that he intends to run for a fifth term. A wheelchair user since a stroke in 2013, Mr. Bouteflika, 81, is rarely seen in public, raising questions about his ability to rule.

Supporters insist he remains strong, even if he needs to speak with a microphone to make himself heard. “Except for his dead voice, he is in good shape and he rules the country,” Lakhdar Brahimi, a retired United Nations diplomat and a friend of Mr. Bouteflika, said in a recent interview.

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Africa’s largest country by size, Algeria is rich in natural gas and oil, which account for about 60 percent of national income, and it is one of Europe’s main gas suppliers. Its government is controlled by veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France; they are notoriously averse to foreign interference and have imposed strong controls that critics say have choked the economy.

An Algerian jihadi, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was the mastermind of the 2013 seizure of an Algerian gas plant in which 800 people were held hostage and 38 hostages were executed. Mr. Belmokhtar, who has longstanding ties to Al Qaeda, escaped and has been the subject of an intensive manhunt in Libya, where American and French aircraft have repeatedly targeted him in missile strikes. Western intelligence officials are divided over whether he is still alive.

Falling oil prices have fueled unemployment and a strong sense of disillusionment among Algerians under 25, who account for half the country’s 40 million people. Striking teachers and doctors have led long strikes in recent months protesting their pay and conditions.

In recent months, falling energy prices have further strained the public finances, leading to a series of monthslong strikes by teachers, doctors and other public workers protesting their pay and conditions.

Until Wednesday, the country’s deadliest accident was in July 2014, when an Air Algérie jetliner traveling from Burkina Faso to Algeria crashed in the desert in Mali, killing all 116 people on board, including 53 French citizens. A French investigation into the crash blamed pilot error.

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