Rescuers are seen around the wreckage of an Algerian army plane. Photo: AFP / Ryad Kramdi

More than 250 people were killed when a military aircraft crashed in a field outside Algeria’s capital on Wednesday. Officials revealed that members of Western Sahara’s Polisario independence movement were among the dead.

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 the media said was a Russian Ilyushin transport plane.

Algerian state TV announced that at least 257 people died in the crash.

The dead included 26 members of Polisario, an Algerian-backed group fighting for the independence of neighboring Western Sahara, a territory also claimed by Morocco in a long-running dispute, an official for Algeria’s ruling FLN party told the private Ennahar TV station.

The plane was heading to Tindouf, an area on Algeria’s border with Western Sahara, but crashed on the airport’s perimeter, the country’s defense ministry reported.

Tindouf is home to thousands of refugees from the Western Sahara with many of them Polisario supporters.

Attempts by the United Nations to broker a settlement have failed for years in the vast desert area after Spain pulled out the what was a colony in 1975. Morocco has claimed the territory while the Polisario has established its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic there.

Algeria’s defense 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.

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