ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Gunmen attacked a gas pipeline in northern Algeria and killed two village guards before being driven off, a local security official said Monday.

The attack took place late Sunday night when the militants launched a series of homemade mortar shells at the Ain Chikh site, 75 miles (120 kilometers) southwest of Algiers, protected by local community guards.

Army units were alerted and proceeded to search the entire area, which is on the southern edge of the Kabylie mountain region that has become the last hideout of al-Qaida in northern Algeria.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Terrorist attacks have dropped dramatically in Algeria's populated north in the past few years and are largely restricted to a few pinprick operations against local security forces.

The weakness of these once-powerful remnants of al-Qaida in the north of the country is in stark contrast to the extremist groups found far to the south in the Sahara — one of which mounted an audacious attack and took hostages two weeks ago.

The four day standoff in Ain Amenas, some 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of the capital involved dozens of foreign hostages and was ended by an Algerian army assault Jan. 19 leaving more than 60 dead.