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ALGIERS (Reuters) - A suicide attack on a police station in western Algeria killed two policeman after one officer jumped on the attacker to protect his colleagues from the blast, state news agency APS and police said on Thursday.

Attacks and bombings have become rarer in Algeria since the end of the country's 1990s war against armed Islamists, but al Qaeda and small brigades of militants tied to Islamic State are still active and often target armed forces.

In the attack early on Thursday morning, an armed militant wearing a suicide belt tried to enter a police post in Tiaret, around 300 kilometres (190 miles) west of Algiers.

"One of the officers in an act of bravery, threw himself on the attacker to protect the others in the entrance of the police station," APS said.

Another officer who was wounded in the blast later died, the national police said in a statement.

It was the first suicide attack in months in Algeria. A militant tried to blow himself up at a police station in Constantine in April and another was shot dead in an attempted bombing in the same city in February.

Gunmen attacked an Algerian military patrol in an area south of the capital in June, slightly wounding four gendarmes, in an attack later claimed by Islamic State.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the group's North Africa branch, is still active in Algeria, but small groups of militants loyal to Islamic State have also been carrying out more recent attacks.

(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Reuters