An Algerian military plane is seen after crashing near an airport outside the capital Algiers. Picture: Ramzi Boudina/Reuters
An Algerian military plane is seen after crashing near an airport outside the capital Algiers. Picture: Ramzi Boudina/Reuters
Picture: ENNAHAR TV/Handout/ via REUTERS
Picture: ENNAHAR TV/Handout/ via REUTERS
Picture: ENNAHAR TV/Handout/ via REUTERS
Picture: ENNAHAR TV/Handout/ via REUTERS
Picture: ENNAHAR TV/Handout/ via REUTERS
Picture: ENNAHAR TV/Handout/ via REUTERS
Bodies are seen on the ground after a military plane crashed into a field outside Algiers. Picture: ENNAHAR TV/Handout/ via REUTERS
Bodies are seen on the ground after a military plane crashed into a field outside Algiers. Picture: ENNAHAR TV/Handout/ via REUTERS

Algiers - 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.

WATCH: Scores feared dead after military plane crashes near Algiers

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

UN 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.