Israeli Woman and Jewish Husband Killed in Morocco Terror Attack

The woman was pregnant with her second child and was visiting Morocco with her Jewish husband for Passover; the couple lived in China, Army Radio reports.

An Israeli woman and her Jewish husband were among the 15 people killed in a terror attack in Morocco on Thursday, in the busiest tourist destination in Marrakesh, Army Radio reported on Friday.

According to Army Radio, the Israeli woman, who was pregnant with her second child, and her husband, had been living in China. The couple were apparently in the city to spend Passover with the man's father.

Morocco terror Attack  April, 28, 2011

The blast ripped through a cafe overlooking Marrakesh's Jamaa el-Fnaa square, a spot often packed with foreign tourists.

Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui said 14 people were killed and 23 wounded in the deadliest attack Morocco has seen since 12 suicide bombers killed 33 members of the public in coordinated strikes on the business hub Casablanca eight years ago.

"Preliminary investigation ... suggests that this was a terrorist act caused by an explosive device," the official MAP news agency quoted Cherkaoui as saying.

Security experts said the attack bore all the hallmarks of a plot by Islamist militants.

"The majority of plots are detected in their early stages because Moroccan authorities retain a very effective network of informants right down to street level," said Anna Murison of Exclusive Analysis, a consultancy.

"However, the regular recurrence of plots ... mean it is likely that a few will slip through the net," she said. State-run 2M television put the death toll at 15 and said they were six French nationals, five Moroccans and four foreigners whose nationality it did not give.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a strong condemnation of the attack.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of this cowardly attack and stand with the people of Morocco at this difficult time," Clinton said in a statement. "Acts of terrorism must not be tolerated wherever and whenever they occur."

Two Marrakesh residents who were near the square told Reuters the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Quoting an unnamed security familiar with the investigation, the independent news portal also said it was a suicide attack. According to the source, the bomber was freed from prison two months ago after having been sentenced to eight
years in jail for rape.

If confirmed as the work of Islamist militants, the attack would be the first such major attack in Morocco since the Casablanca suicide bombings of 2003.

Massive Blast 

The blast is likely to hurt Morocco's tourism trade, a major source of revenue, which is already struggling to cope with the effects of the global downturn and protests that have swept north Africa.

Morocco's ruler, King Mohammed, has promised to reform the constitution to placate Moroccan protesters who have been inspired by uprisings in other part of the Arab world. But a fresh round of protests is planned for Sunday.

A doctor at a Marrakesh hospital said at least one of those killed was a French citizen, and that some of the wounded had lost limbs in the blast.

"I heard a massive blast. The first and second floors of the building were destroyed," said one local woman, who did not want to be identified. "Some witnesses said they saw a man carrying a bag entering the cafe before the blast."

The cafe is in the Marrakesh medina, or old city, which is designated by the United Nation's cultural arm as a World Heritage Site. It is usually packed with stalls, story-tellers and snake-charmers seeking to attract tourists.

"You can't find a more emblematic target than Jamaa el-Fnaa square," said a Frenchman who owns a restaurant in the city. The roof over the cafe's upstairs terrace was ripped off by the force of the explosion and pieces of plaster and electrical wires hung from the ceiling.

"I heard a very loud blast in the square. It occurred inside Argana cafe. When I approached the scene, I saw shredded bodies being pulled out of the cafe," a Reuters photographer said.

"The first floor bore the brunt of the damage while the ground floor was almost intact ... There are a lot of police who, with forensics, are sifting through the debris."

Last week, men claiming to be Moroccan members of al-Qaida's north African wing appeared in a video posted on YouTube threatening to attack Moroccan interests.

A masked speaker, who identified himself as Abu Abdulrahman, said the planned attacks were to avenge the detention of Islamists by Moroccan authorities.