At least three of the blasts were from car bombs, and the fourth
appeared to be detonated by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive
belt, according to security officials in this North African nation.
The official news agency MAP reported that three suspects were
apprehended, without elaborating. The agency also said that 10 of
the dead were attackers.
"They were terrorists, suicide bombers," Interior Minister
Mustapha Sahel told reporters. "These are the well-known signatures
of international terrorists."
The attacks came just days after deadly terrorist bombings in
Saudi Arabia, prompting cities across the globe to brace for the
possibility of attacks by Osama bin Laden (news
sites)'s al-Qaida terrorist network, though it was not
immediately known who was behind the Casablanca attacks.
The British government warned its citizens Friday to be on guard
against "a clear terrorist threat" in six eastern African countries
Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti.
However, it did not advise British nationals to avoid all
nonessential travel there, as they have been told about Kenya.
The blasts appeared to take place almost simultaneously just
after 9 p.m., killing at least 24 people and leaving several others
injured, the Interior Ministry said. The explosions damaged the
Belgian consulate, a Spanish restaurant and a Jewish community
center, officials said.
The charred wreckage of burned vehicles were at the four sites
near the center of the city. Bodies were scattered in the streets.
At the Hotel Safir, which was targeted, guests hastily left an
elevator and walked over broken glass to get out, as police moved in
to secure the area.
Two of the dead were policemen who had been outside the Belgian
consulate, which was heavily damaged, Belgian Foreign Ministry
spokesman Didier Seeuws told the Belgian news agency Belga. A
security guard there was among the injured.
The Atlantic coastal city, Morocco's economic heart about 60
miles southwest of the capital of Rabat, was a scene of pandemonium
with police and rescue workers rushing to the sites and night clubs
and restaurants shutting down almost immediately.
But Sahel said later that the situation was under control. "All
steps have been taken throughout the territory to ensure order, calm
and security in the face of this criminal enterprise (news
Joanne Moore, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman in Washington,
said no U.S. government facility was targeted.
U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington had warned Friday
of a coordinated effort by al-Qaida to strike lightly defended
targets worldwide, citing the bombings earlier this week in Saudi
Arabia as well as threats in Africa and Asia.
Abdullah ben Ali, a correspondent in Casablanca for the Arab
satellite television station Al-Arabiya, said he witnessed one
explosion at the "Casa Espana" nightclub, frequented mainly by
Spaniards, and at the Hotel Safir, suggesting Western targets.
Morocco, with a population of about 30 million, has mostly Sunni
Muslim people with small Christian and Jewish communities. Both
Belgium and Spain have large Moroccan immigrant populations.
Morocco, considered a moderate Arab nation, has been a staunch
U.S. ally. But it expressed regret that a peaceful solution could
not be found in the Iraq (news
sites) crisis. The Moroccan public turned out in large numbers
for anti-war protests against the Iraq war, including one in the
capital, Rabat, in March that drew 200,000 people.
Morocco postponed municipal elections in April by several months
a move widely seen as an effort to thwart the rise of Muslim
fundamentalist parties. Analysts have predicted that Muslim
fundamentalist parties will make massive gains.
Sahel accused the attackers of trying to "intimidate and
destabilize a democracy."
Monday's suicide blasts in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, killed 34
people at three foreigners' housing compounds.
Three Saudis were arrested in Casablanca last year for leading an
al-Qaida plot to attack U.S. and British warships. The three were
given 10-year prison sentences in February by a Moroccan court.
The Saudis are also accused of having planned to blow up a cafe
in Marrakech, a major tourist destination, and attack tourist buses
All three Saudis admitted under interrogation that they had been
trained in the use of weapons and explosives at al-Qaida camps in
sites) and Pakistan.
U.S. and British authorities had warned of threats in East
Africa, particularly Kenya, and in southeast Asia, particularly
Malaysia. U.S. officials also received an unconfirmed report that a
possible terrorist attack may occur in the western Saudi city of
Al-Qaida has suffered serious blows in recent months, including
the capture of alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
But senior al-Qaida leaders were thought to be hiding in Pakistan,
Afghanistan and Iran, U.S. officials said.
In another North African country, an explosion on April 11, 2002,
tore apart sections of a synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of
Djerba, killing 21 people, mostly foreign tourists. The blast has
been linked to al-Qaida.