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40 dead morocco bombings { May 18 2003 }

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40 dead, 100 injured in Morocco bombings
May 18 2003
The Sun-Herald

As the rest of the world was on alert for fresh terror outrages, at least 40 people died and 100 were injured in a horrific series of bomb attacks in Casablanca yesterday.

Ten suicide bombers were among those killed in the attacks which looked like the work of international terrorists, Moroccan Interior Minister Mostafa Sahel told a hastily organised press briefing.

The minister said that five sites had been targeted in the string of attacks.

"These attacks bear the hallmarks of international terrorism," Mr Sahel said, adding that three Moroccan suspects had been arrested.

"Most of the victims were Moroccan," Mr Sahel said.

He said the worst attack was at Casablanca's Casa de Espana Hispanic cultural centre.

Jewish, Spanish and, apparently, Belgian targets were also struck, the MAP news agency said.

Three of the blasts were car bombs. Two policemen and a security guard at a Spanish centre were among the dead. Glass, blood and debris littered the scenes.

"There are body parts all over the place," Moroccan journalist Aboubakr Jammai told the BBC, describing a witness account from the Spanish centre. He said at least one of the explosions involved a suicide bomber.

Against a background of a worldwide terror alert, this was the first major attack of its type in Morocco in recent years.

The blasts follow attacks by suicide bombers using vehicles at expatriate housing compounds in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh last week in which 34 people, including an Australian man, died and warnings that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda group was poised to strike again.

"It is certainly a wake-up call to many that the war on terror continues," President George W Bush told reporters yesterday.

Moroccan television showed extensive damage at the bomb scenes, including men walking around in shock and a woman carrying a child wrapped in a blanket across broken glass and rubble.

In Madrid, a Spanish diplomatic source quoted the Spanish consulate in Morocco as saying that there had been an explosion near the Belgian consulate, one in the restaurant of a Spanish social club, the Casa de Espana, one at the Hotel Safir, one at a Jewish cultural centre and one at the office or residence of the US consul.

In Washington, however, a State Department spokesman said no US government facility had been hit.

A Spanish state radio correspondent reported four or five grenade explosions. He said a young suicide bomber had apparently set off a grenade in his belt at the Spanish centre. Spain was a vocal supporter of the US war on Iraq and has had fraught relations with Morocco, where Madrid once exercised colonial powers.

"The doorman, poor thing, they cut his head off, like this, with a big knife ... then they left one, two bombs. And there were Spaniards. I saw the doorman's chair - it was covered in blood,'' the secretary of the Casa de Espana Spanish social club told Spain's state radio. "And they left a big knife. Then inside there was, I don't know, flesh - flesh all over the place."

Moroccan journalists at the scene said the car bomb near the Belgian consulate may actually have been aimed at a nearby Jewish restaurant. They said eight people were believed dead at the Hotel Safir.

The fourth bomb reported by MAP, at the Spanish centre, was apparently not in a car. Three suspects were arrested, MAP said, giving no details.

Casablanca lies on the Atlantic coast about 95km southwest of the capital Rabat.

In May and June last year, Morocco arrested three Saudis and seven Moroccans suspected of links to al-Qaeda for allegedly plotting to attack US and British warships crossing the Gibraltar Strait, and carry out attacks against Moroccan tourist sites.

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