Morocco arrested three people over a bomb attack on a cafe in the tourist city of Marrakesh last week that killed 16 people and said the chief suspect showed “loyalty” to al-Qaeda.
The three suspects were all Moroccans, the official news agency quoted the Interior Ministry as saying. Most of the bomb victims were foreign holidaymakers, including eight French people.
The ministry said the chief suspect, who was “well-versed in jihadi ideology and shows loyalty to al-Qaeda,” had built and planted two bombs in the cafe.
The April 28 blasts were the first such attack in Morocco since coordinated suicide bombings in the commercial capital, Casablanca, in 2003, and added to the challenges facing King Mohammed VI at a time when he is trying to prevent uprisings breaking out in Morocco similar to those elsewhere in the Arab world.
The Moroccan Interior Ministry said the chief suspect had previously tried to fight alongside Islamist militants in Russia’s turbulent Chechnya republic and in Iraq.
It said he built two remotely detonated bombs using instructions downloaded from the Internet, then dressed like a tourist and planted them in a cafe overlooking Marrakesh’s Jemaa el-Fna square.
Western security experts said the aim was probably to damage the tourism industry on which Morocco depends.
The kingdom is usually seen as a haven of stability in a volatile region, but it has faced demonstrations in recent weeks, joined by the trade unions last weekend, demanding a change of government and greater democratic freedoms.
The government has offered a public sector pay rise, reform of the Constitution and greater independence for the judiciary.
Protesters have accused the government of trying to use the attack to raise fears of instability and dissuade people from taking to the streets.