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, 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 Ilyushin 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.
U.N. 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.
In February 2014, an Algerian Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules crashed in a mountainous area in eastern Algeria killing 77 passengers and leaving one survivor.