Al-Qaeda group suspected of Marrakesh bomb that killed 15

 

MOROCCO HAS said a bomb that killed 15 people, including 10 foreigners, in a cafe in Marrakesh on Thursday was a terrorist act.

Islamist militants are suspected of having been involved in the attack, which ripped through the Argana cafe overlooking Jamaa el-Fna square, a popular tourist location in the city.

Seven victims – two Moroccans, two French, two Canadians and a Dutch national – had been identified as of yesterday, the interior ministry said.

French media reported that six of the dead were French, while Israel’s foreign ministry said two of the victims, a man and a woman, were Jews living in Shanghai and that the woman apparently had Israeli citizenship.

The attack, in which 23 people were also wounded, is the deadliest in Morocco since suicide bombers killed 33 in co-ordinated strikes on the business capital, Casablanca, eight years ago.

“A preliminary investigation ... suggests that this was a terrorist act caused by an explosive device,” the official MAP news agency quoted interior minister Taieb Cherkaoui as saying.

The attack appears to have been an attempt to damage the tourist industry, one of the country’s biggest sources of revenue. Quoting an unnamed security official, independent news portal Lakome.com said it was a suicide attack, but this was not officially confirmed.

The bombing came weeks after King Mohammed VI announced constitutional reforms and just days after the authorities released some political prisoners, including fundamentalist Salafists.

Speaking on a visit to Madrid, finance minister Salaheddine Mezouar said the country was determined not to let the attack dent confidence in tourism. “To go to a country as a tourist and return dead is a terrible thing,” he said. “We are going to work very hard so that this does not have an impact on tourism in Marrakesh.”

The Justice and Charity Movement, one of the biggest Islamist groups in Morocco, condemned what it called a “barbaric” attack, “whoever was responsible”. The group, officially banned but tolerated by the authorities, said it rejected all forms of violence.

No organisation has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, but many analysts suspect the involvement of the group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Last week, men claiming to be Moroccan members of the group appeared in an internet video threatening to attack Moroccan interests. A masked speaker said the planned attacks were to avenge the detention of Islamists by the Moroccan authorities.

“Every trail will be explored, including that of al-Qaeda,” said communications minister Khalid Naciri.

The Paris prosecutor yesterday opened an investigation into the bombing and 10 French police officers were on their way to Marrakesh to help identify the bodies.