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Africa

Morocco investigates deadly Marrakesh blast

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-29

Moroccan authorities have launched an investigation into a remote-controlled bomb attack that killed 15 people, most of them foreign tourists, in a crowded Marrakesh café.

AFP - A bomb in Marrakesh that killed 15 people was set off by a remote-control device, a minister said Friday, as it emerged that an Al-Qaeda group had warned there would be an attack in Morocco.

Léa Lisa Westerhoff reports on the Marrakesh bombing for France 24

Interior Minister Taeb Cherkaoui also told a parliamentary committee that the country was on the alert for further attacks.

"Initial inquiries have shown an explosive product made up of nitrate and ammonium and two TATP explosives, and also with nails -- and the explosion was set off from a distance," Cherkaoui told deputies in the capital Rabat.

"Those who are in the habit of opting for this mode of action from a distance are known, which allows us to think that the danger is still present and we have to remain vigilant and prudent," he added.

Triacetone triperoxyde, or TATP, is relatively easy to make and has surfaced in a number of recent investigations into attacks, including the July 2005 London bombings that killed 56 people and injured another 700.

So far no one has claimed responsibility for Thursday's bombing of a popular tourist cafe in Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh's main square, and Cherkaoui said investigators were exploring all leads "including that of Al-Qaeda".

But a video posted on the Internet three days before the bombing and attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) included a threat to Morocco. AQIM has in the past been active in countries in the region, notably carrying out a series of kidnappings for ransom.

Witnesses said the blast went off on the terrace of the Argana cafe, a favourite haunt for tourists in Marrakesh, wrecking the facade and the first floor.

Cherkaoui's statement appeared to revise earlier speculation from Moroccan officials that the attack might have been a suicide bombing.

The death toll stood at 15, of whom 12 were foreign nationals, and 26 people were wounded, Cherkaoui said. Earlier reports had spoken of 16 dead.

The Moroccan news agency cited official sources in a report saying that among the foreign nationals killed in the blast were "two Moroccans, two French nationals, two Canadians and a Dutch national".

Authorities in France said at least six of the dead were French while the Netherlands confirmed the death of the Dutchman.

Israeli media reported that a 30-year-old pregnant Israeli woman and her husband, who was originally from Morocco, were among those killed.

Dutch tourist John Van Leeuwen said he had looked the man believed responsible for the attack in the eyes moments before his bomb exploded.

"There were only tourists in the cafe, and three other Moroccans, and one guy that didn't initially look suspicious," Van Leeuwen told AFP by telephone as he waited to catch a flight home with Marjolein Appel, 39.

"But after we found out it wasn't a gas explosion, my girlfriend and I, we looked at each other, and said that must have been him.

The man in question had been carrying "two huge bags", and he thought the man had left the cafe shortly after him and his girlfriend, he added.

Police created a photofit image of the alleged bomber based on their description and "it looks as if it's someone that is familiar to the police", said Van Leeuwen.

Thursday's attack came in the wake of a growing movement for democratic reform in Morocco.

In his statement, Cherkaoui promised: "This act will not stop the choice of the Moroccan state to pursue the march of democracy and the respect of human rights."

There have been three protests since February to demand reform, prompting King Mohammed VI to announce major political changes, including greater judicial independence.

In mid-April, he pardoned political prisoners, including Islamists, in a gesture of appeasement.

French intelligence and anti-terrorism experts on Friday travelled to Marrakesh to help in the probe, a Moroccan official said.

International police agency Interpol condemned the attack and said it had offered its help to Moroccan investigators.

Britain, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States have also denounced the bombing.

The Marrakesh attack was the deadliest in the North African monarchy since 33 people were killed by 12 suicide bombers in Casablanca in 2003. An attempted attack in 2007 was thwarted and one of three would-be bombers killed.

Morocco depends heavily on tourism, with around 9.4 million tourists visiting the country in 2010, two million of them French.

 

Map of Marrakesh's main square Jamaa el-Fna

 

Date created : 2011-04-29

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