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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 16:44 GMT 17:44 UK
Terror blasts rock Casablanca
Casablanca bomb damage
A five-star hotel was among the city centre targets

At least 41 people have been killed and about 100 injured in suicide bomb attacks in Morocco's largest city, Casablanca, local officials say.

The attacks on Friday night targeted a Jewish community centre, a Spanish restaurant and social club, a hotel and the Belgian consulate.

Five explosions occurred within 30 minutes of each other. A Moroccan Government official said all the blasts were triggered by suicide bombers carrying explosives.

Spanish television says another powerful explosion was heard in the Jewish quarter of Casablanca on Saturday afternoon. There are no further details.

The doorman, poor thing, they cut his head off, like this, with a big knife
Lamia Haffi
Witness at Spanish restaurant

Moroccan Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel said the attacks "bear the hallmark of international terrorism", adding that 10 suicide bombers were among those killed.

Officials said the victims were mainly Moroccans.

At least six Europeans - two Spaniards, two Italians and two French - were also killed, a senior hospital official said.

Witnesses spoke of the attackers having grenades and other explosives tied to their belts.

The explosions came amid worldwide terror alerts and just four days after a co-ordinated series of bombings in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, killed 34 people.

Mr Sahel said there were similarities between the bombings in Casablanca and Riyadh.

The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner says there are indications that the Casablanca blasts were al-Qaeda inspired - and were probably the work of a "North African cell linked to al-Qaeda".

Israeli tourists

In the past, Osama Bin Laden's terror network has carried out similar co-ordinated suicide bombings against Western or Jewish targets.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says no Moroccan militant groups are known to use violence of this sort to further their cause.

Israeli Army Radio said about 40 Israelis were staying at the Farah Hotel - better known as the Safir Hotel - targeted by the bombers.

But no Jews or Israelis were among the casualties and the group was later evacuated to hotels in other cities, Israeli officials said.

The Moroccan interior minister said a suspected bomber was among the injured and was being questioned.

Two other suspects had also been arrested, he said. All three were Moroccans.

Spanish National Radio said 15 people died in the attack on the Casa de Espana restaurant, making it the worst of the five bombings.

A Spanish businessman was among those killed, Spanish media reported.

Lamia Haffi, the secretary of the social club, told the radio that "the doorman, poor thing, they cut his head off, like this, with a big knife... then they left one, two bombs".

"I saw the doorman's chair, it was covered in blood. And they left a large knife there. Then inside there were bodies all over the place."

Guards killed

Belgian foreign ministry spokesman Didier Seeuws told the Belgian news agency, Belga, that the country's consulate had been severely damaged.

He said two policemen outside the building had been killed and a security guard needed hospital treatment.

Damaged Belgian consulate in Casablanca
Belgian consulate - near a restaurant used by Moroccan Jews

A nearby Italian restaurant, the Positano, is owned by a French Jew of Moroccan origin, the Associated Press reports.

A Positano employee said a colleague had stopped three suspects as they were entering the restaurant. One of the suspects reportedly fled and the other two died in the blasts.

Belgian officials said their security cameras showed the bombers trying to get into the restaurant, but failing. The bombs then went off in the street.

"Casablanca is a town in shock, Morocco is a country in shock. We never expected such an event here," said Abubakr Jammai, a local journalist.

US allies

The bombings have been widely condemned internationally.

These atrocities are not Islamic
Simon Soaper, England

US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Morocco "stands out in the Arab world as a country that is making significant strides towards democracy and I think the terrorists are opposed to progress".

In December, three Saudi men went on trial in Morocco, accused of forming an al-Qaeda cell in the country and of planning an attack against Nato ships in the Straits of Gibraltar.

Morocco has been a staunch ally of the US, although it did express opposition to the war against Iraq, with King Mohammed VI warning that it could anger the country's Islamic fundamentalists.

The BBC's Heba Saleh says the bombings appear designed to undermine a pro-Western Arab government, even at the cost of killing fellow Arabs and Muslims.

Both the US and British authorities have issued a number of recent warnings about possible terrorist attacks in East Africa, particularly Kenya, and South-East Asia.

The BBC's Sarah Lockett
"The targets included a nightclub and a Jewish centre"


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