41 die in Casablanca attacks
At least 41 people were killed and scores injured when suicide bombers struck Friday night in Morocco's biggest city, Casablanca. U.S. President George W. Bush warned the world yesterday that Al-Qaida was "not idle."
CASABLANCA - At least 41 people were killed and scores injured when suicide bombers struck Friday night in Morocco's biggest city, Casablanca. U.S. President George W. Bush warned the world yesterday that Al-Qaida was "not idle."
A Jewish community center and a Spanish club were among the targets of the second major attack within a week on an Arab kingdom with historically close ties to the United States. Saudi Arabia was hit by multiple suicide bombings on Monday.
Three French nationals, two Spaniards and an Italian were reported killed in the night of death and destruction that hit Casablanca. "The acts perpetrated in Casablanca are the work of blind international terrorism. Morocco is determined to punish terrorist acts without mercy," said Hassan Aourid, a spokesman for Morocco's leader, King Mohammed VI.
Moroccan police arrested 27 Islamists last night in connection with the bombing, a senior government source told Reuters.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but their apparently coordinated nature threw suspicion on Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida network. Some attackers made direct raids, but other blasts were triggered by car bombs.
"The doorman, poor thing, they cut his head off ... with a big knife ... then they left one, two bombs," said an official at the Casa de Espana club, popular with Spanish businessmen and diplomats. Spain backed the U.S.-led war on Iraq. "Inside there was ... flesh all over the place," the official said.
Officials said the bombers carried out five separate attacks and that as many as 10 of the dead might have been assailants.
Two policemen were killed outside Belgium's consulate, which bore the brunt of a blast apparently aimed at a Jewish-owned Italian restaurant opposite, embassy staff in the Moroccan capital Rabat said.
Bush warned on Friday of "killers on the loose," as terror alerts spread around the world in the wake of Monday's attacks in Saudi Arabia that killed 34 people, including eight Americans.
"The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we," Bush said yesterday in his weekly radio address.
"The terrorist attacks this week in Saudi Arabia that killed innocent civilians from more than half a dozen countries ... provide a stark reminder that the war on terror continues," Bush said.
A U.S. official said it was plausible Al-Qaida, blamed by Washington for the September 11 attacks in 2001, was behind the Casablanca bombings. Washington has already pointed the finger at Al-Qaida for the attacks in Riyadh.
Morocco and Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's birthplace, were among Muslim states listed as "most eligible for liberation" in a tape purportedly by the Al-Qaida leader and broadcast in February.
In recent days, the U.S. and Britain have issued warnings of possible attacks in Kenya and other African countries, but not Morocco, suggesting the choice of that country as a target had caught Western intelligence by surprise.
The latest bombings shattered Morocco's image of a relatively stable country and safe tourist destination. Rabat and Washington are currently negotiating a free trade agreement.
A target in the old heart of Casablanca was the Hotel Farah, also known by its former name, Hotel Safir, and used by foreigners. The hotel's security chief said two assailants had burst in and were stopped by staff. "One of them stabbed one of my agents with a knife, the other agent tried to get hold of the second attacker and that's when he blew himself up."
Officials said three Moroccans had been arrested in connection with the blasts.
Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a bombing on a synagogue in Tunisia, in April last year, when 20 people were killed, including 14 German tourists.
Iran, branded by Bush as part of an "axis of evil" along with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and North Korea and accused of backing terrorists, condemned the Casablanca attacks. "Such terrorist acts are in contrast with religious teachings and humanitarian principles," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.