Category: Morocco.

Marrakech blast kills at least 15, Morocco authorities term episode ‘criminal’

By MUSTAPHA AJBAILI
AL ARABIYA WITH AGENCIES

Investigators work at the site of a blast at a cafe in Marrakesh April 28, 2011. Moroccco's interior ministry said on Thursday early evidence suggested a deadly blast in the heart of the country's main tourist destination, Marrakesh. (File Photo)

At least 15 people, six of them French, were killed and 20 others wounded in an explosion that rocked the center of the Morocco’s second largest city, Marrakech, on Thursday, Al Arabiya TV reported.

The interior ministry has described the blast as criminal. Security sources have told Al Arabiya that the explosion occurred when a large water boiler in a factory close to a coffee shop exploded.
An official in the regional governor’s office told Agence-France Presse that initial information suggested that a suicide bomber could have perpetrated the blast.

“We found nails in one of the bodies,” added the official, who visited the hospital where some of the bodies were taken.

And an interior ministry official said that indications pointed to a terror attack on the Argana cafe in the Jamaa el-Fna Square, a favorite haunt of foreign tourists.

The square is recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site and it attracts thousands of tourists from inside and outside Morocco every day.

But there were contradictory reports on exactly how the blast occurred.

One witness who was inside the cafe but escaped unscathed said: “An individual entered, ordered an orange juice and a few minutes later blew himself up.”

But another witness, quoted by several Moroccan radio stations, said the bomber dropped a suitcase and immediately walked out of the cafe.

Latifa Idrissi, whose husband Yassine Bouzidi, 28, was one of the victims, said the blast occurred on the café’s terrace and badly injured the manager.

A medical source speaking on condition of anonymity said five women are among the 11 dead foreigners.

“We cannot at this stage determine the exact identity of all the victims,” the source added.

The French embassy in Morocco, meanwhile, said it did not know whether French nationals were among the casualties but added that it was in touch with Moroccan authorities to find out.

Thursday’s Marrakesh blast came eight years after the May 16, 2003 terror attacks that killed 45 people, including 12 suicide bombers, in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city and commercial capital.

Last January, Moroccan Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui said 27 suspected terrorists recently arrested in the country’s south had ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an al-Qaeda-linked regional offshoot, and to a Europe-based terrorist organization.

He said four of the suspects were arrested near the Algerian-Moroccan border.

According to experts, AQIM bases are spread across Algeria, Mauritania and Mali.

Mr. Cherkaoui then said the network had planned bank robberies in Casablanca and Rabat to finance its terrorist actions.

And his ministry said a Moroccan national who is a member of AQIM and who wanted to create a rear base in the country for terror attacks led the network.

(Mustapha Ajbaili of Al Arabiya can be reached via email at: Mustapha.ajbaili.mbc.net)

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Category: Morocco