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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 19:05 GMT 20:05 UK
Bomb carnage shocks Morocco
Policemen inspect wrecked terrace of Casa de Espana restaurant
A busy Spanish restaurant terrace was devastated
A major security operation is under way in Casablanca after suicide bomb attacks killed at least 41 people and injured about 100 in Morocco's commercial capital.

The attacks on Friday night were aimed at foreign targets - a Jewish community centre, a busy Spanish restaurant and social club, a five-star international hotel and the Belgian consulate.

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

The authorities have deployed extra police and soldiers across the city - especially outside hotels and restaurants - and set up checkpoints.

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 seven Europeans - three French nationals, two Spaniards and an Italian - were also killed, diplomats 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.

Three French nationals
Two Spaniards
One Italian

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.

But this was the first such devastating attack in Morocco - a staunch US ally which nevertheless opposed the war on Iraq.

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, Israeli officials said.

The Moroccan interior minister said a suspected bomber was among the injured and was being questioned, along with two other Moroccan suspects.

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

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.

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

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

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.

"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

In the past few days the US and British authorities have issued warnings about possible terrorist attacks in East Africa, particularly Kenya, and South-East Asia.

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".

A taped message attributed to Bin Laden and distributed to the media in February named Morocco on a list of "apostate" Arab nations.

In the same month, Morocco handed down 10-year jail terms to three Saudi men accused of forming an al-Qaeda cell and plotting to attack Nato ships in the Straits of Gibraltar.

The bombings came after a week of national festivities held to celebrate the birth of a new crown prince - the first child of Morocco's King Mohammed VI.

The BBC's Tristana Moore
"These bombings have put the spotlight on Morocco"


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