Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Explosions rip through Casablanca, kill 40

AP , CASABLANCA, MOROCCO

Terrorists set off a string of deadly blasts in the heart of Casablanca, killing dozens and damaging a Jewish community center and two western targets. A government official said at least 40 people were killed.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were probably foreigners among the victims. He also said that investigations had shown that all five attacks Friday night involved suicide bombings, and that car bombs had not been used.

The Moroccan government did not directly implicate Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in the nearly simultaneous explosions, but the attack confirmed fears that terrorists have plans to strike lightly defended sites.

Government officials had reported that at least three of the attacks were caused by car bombs, but another government official said all of the blasts were carried out by suicide bombers.

Three suspects, all Moroccans, were apprehended Friday night, the official Moroccan news agency reported. The agency also said that 10 of the dead were attackers.

The attacks threw Casablanca, Morocco's economic center, into chaos.

"It's a catastrophe, a tragedy," said the owner of a social club that houses a Spanish restaurant that was attacked.

According to Raphael Bermudez, a suicide bomber slit the throat of a guard before blowing himself up under a tent where clients were seated, including several Spaniards.

"I don't understand why terrorists chose this place," he said.

A diplomatic source speaking on condition of anonymity said at least one Spanish citizen was among the dead, but that could not be officially confirmed.

Spain's foreign minister said there were no Spanish residents of Casablanca among the victims, but that Spaniards visiting the city could have been hurt.

At least 60 people were injured. The blasts damaged a Jewish community center and old cemetery, the Belgian consulate, a Spanish restaurant and a hotel. There are about 4,000 Jews living in Casablanca.

In the minutes after the blasts, police and rescue workers rushed to the sites to care for dazed, blood-splattered survivors. The shattered bodies of victims were scattered on the wreckage-strewn streets.

"They were terrorists, suicide bombers," Interior Minister Mustapha Sahel told reporters. "These are the well-known signatures of international terrorists."

Sahel did not name al-Qaeda, but cities across the globe had been bracing for the possibility of attacks by the group.

In Morocco, municipal elections were delayed last month over concerns of growing Muslim fundamentalism.

Sahel said that his country would not be intimidated.

"The Kingdom of Morocco will never surrender to terrorists and will not allow anyone to disturb its security," he said.

A US counterterrorism official in Washington said late Friday there were no immediate claims of responsibility or any clear indication of who conducted the bombings.

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