Al Qaeda targets US diplomatic offices in Morocco as jihad intensifies -two suicide attacks near consulate and cultural center
April 14, 2007
April 14, 2007
Two bombers attack U.S. targets in Morocco
By Lamine Ghanmi
CASABLANCA, Morocco (Reuters) - Two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside U.S. diplomatic offices in Morocco's commercial hub Casablanca on Saturday in the first such attack in Morocco in four years, witnesses said.
The bloodshed coincided with a U.S. embassy warning in neighbouring Algeria that armed groups might strike in Algiers again, less than a week after suicide bombs there revived fears of a return to the full-scale Algerian conflict of the 1990s.
Only the bombers were killed in the Casablanca attacks, no one was wounded.
Analysts say recent blasts in Morocco and the twin explosions that killed 33 in Algiers on Wednesday signal a sharp expansion in the threat from armed groups seeking to establish Islamic rule in north Africa.
The increasingly bold bombers are posing a tough test for governments trying to shore up stability in a region on Europe's southern flank that is dependent to a large extent on oil and gas exports and tourism.
Saturday's targeted suicide bombings in Casablanca were the first in Morocco since May 2003, when attackers set off at least five explosions in Casablanca that hit a Spanish restaurant, a five-star hotel and a Jewish community centre. Forty-five people were killed, including 13 bombers, and about 60 were wounded in those attacks.
Witnesses said the first blast on Saturday happened about six metres (yards) from the U.S. cultural centre and the second went off about 20 seconds later 60 metres away from the consulate.
Police arrested a third bomber as he tried to flee the scene in a smart district of the port city, where three suicide bombers blew themselves up four days ago.
"He threw down his explosives belt and ran away. Police chased him and caught him," said the owner of a coffee shop in the neighbourhood, who declined to be identified.
They also later arrested the leaders of the armed group to which the two suicide bombers and those responsible for Tuesday's blasts belonged, a security official said.
The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the two arrested men -- the head and deputy head of the gang -- had given investigators the names of the group's members and their plans for future attacks.
On Tuesday, three suspected would-be bombers killed themselves in a poor neighbourhood of Casablanca after police raided a safe house and shot dead a fourth suspect, setting off their explosives so as not to be taken alive by police who were on their tail.
"HOME GROWN" MILITANTS
A senior police source said Saturday's bombers clearly intended to attack the U.S. buildings. "They made that statement with their own bodies," the source said. He said the two could not get closer to the buildings due to security fortifications.
A police source said only the two bombers were killed.
Police later arrested three other men, and were cheered by hundreds of onlookers as officers pushed them into a police car to be taken away for questioning.
The government has said it was on alert for a gang who planned to blow up foreign ships docking at Casablanca's port and hotels in Morocco's main tourist cities.
The Rabat government says the bombers were "home-grown" militants with no links to international terror networks.
However, analyst Miloud Belkadi said the targets of Saturday's bombings set them apart from those of Tuesday, which were clearly detonated as a tactic to deny pursuing police.
"The bombing today underscores links with al Qaeda strategy focusing on U.S. targets," he said.
The Algeria bombings this week, believed to have been the country's first suicide car bomb attacks, were claimed by an Islamist armed group known as the al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb.
The claim could not immediately be verified but the group has taken responsibility for several deadly attacks on police, troops and foreigners in recent months.
Algeria descended into bloodshed in 1992 after the then military-backed authorities scrapped a parliamentary election which an Islamist political party was set to win. Up to 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing bloodshed.
That violence subsided in recent years following amnesties for insurgents, but rumbles on in mountains east of Algiers.
--------------------------------------------------------------- Women laments loss of sons http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=304676&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__africa/ In the single-room shack in Casablanca that has been her home for 27 years, Rachida Raydi laments the loss of two of her seven children, who both ended their lives as suicide bombers.
Ayoub Raydi was one of three militants who blew themselves up on Tuesday in the Moroccan port city, less than a month after his brother, Abdelfettah, killed himself and injured four when he blew up an internet café.
"I hadn't seen Ayoub for 10 months and Abdelfettah for nine months. I'm against terrorism," their 46-year-old mother said.
Rachida, who was abandoned by her husband and now sells clothes to survive, lives in one room that serves as a bedroom, dining room, kitchen and even toilet. It is lit by a single light bulb.
"If Ayoub would have continued to live with me, I would have kept him from committing the irreparable," she said.
The attacks earlier this week saw three militants blow themselves up as they were being chased by police, killing one police inspector and injuring seven others.
On March 11, Abdelfettah Raydi blew himself up, injuring four others, including a suspected accomplice, in one of the city's internet cafés.
Moroccan officials have said they do not believe the two incidents are linked to Wednesday's two suicide bombings in the Algerian capital, Algiers, which killed at least 33 people.
In the township where the Casablanca bombers' families live, few are willing to talk to reporters and most insist they have no links to the attacks.
"I've got nothing to do with the person who blew himself up; I know nothing, I don't have a mad son," shouted Wardia Mentala from behind her door.
But her neighbours confirmed she was the mother of Mohamed, who was shot dead by police on Tuesday before he could blow himself up. They said she has been questioned by police several times.
A bit further along Douar Skouila, the township that is home to 2 300 families, the relatives of Mohamed Rachidi are no more forthcoming. "Keep your condolences to yourself and leave if you want to stay alive," shouted the sister of the first suicide bomber to explode himself on Tuesday.
Mohamed (37) was also implicated in the murder of a police officer in Casablanca in 2003.
Many of the area's residents say they have had enough of the suspicions that have surrounded them since local youths carried out suicide attacks across Casablanca in May 2003, killing 45 people including the 12 bombers.
"Our life is already precarious and it infuriates me to hear that our neighbourhood is a nest of terrorists," said 24-year-old Mohamed Harchi.
He is working, but noted that having the township's address on their identity cards leave residents with little chance of finding work.
The falling rain gives the area an even more sinister air. The alleys are muddy, the sewers discharge black, foul-smelling water, and the children wade through it apparently regardless.
"It's drugs that force these young people to act, not religion," commented Rachid (28). "They are desperate people who take psychotropic drugs."
But Ahmed Mouchid, a 40-year-old maths teacher, does not share that view. "It's true we have here a reservoir of terrorists, but the causes lie in the lack of prospects, the idleness that is killing these young people," he said. -- Sapa-AFP