Casablanca bombings leave many dead

At least 20 people were killed when four explosions tore through the Moroccan coastal city of Casablanca damaging a synagogue, the Belgian consulate and a Spanish restaurant, officials said.

At least 20 people were killed when four explosions tore through the Moroccan coastal city of Casablanca damaging a synagogue, the Belgian consulate and a Spanish restaurant, officials said.

At least three of yesterday’s blasts were from car bombs, and the fourth appeared to be detonated by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt, security officials said.

The official news agency MAP reported that three suspects were apprehended, without elaborating.

Cities across the globe had been bracing for the possibility of attacks by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terrorist network, though it was not immediately known who was behind the Casablanca bombings.

The blasts appeared to take place almost simultaneously just after 9pm local time (10pm Irish time), officials said. The explosions damaged the Belgian consulate, a Spanish restaurant and a synagogue, officials said.

Joanne Moore, a US State Department spokesman in Washington, said “no US government facility was targeted”.

The city, Morocco’s economic heart, was a scene of pandemonium, with police and rescue workers rushing to the sites and night clubs and restaurants shutting down almost immediately.

Moroccan security officials said there were burnt-out vehicles at the four sites near consulates and restaurants in the centre of the city.

Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Didier Seeuws told the Belgian news agency Belga that the Belgian consulate was heavily damaged. He said two policemen outside the building were killed and a security guard was injured.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks. The Interior Ministry said at least 20 people were killed.

The blasts came just four days after a series of suicide bombings in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, killed 34 people at three foreigners’ housing compounds.

Morocco has been a staunch US ally, but expressed regret that a peaceful solution could not be found in the Iraq 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.

King Mohammed VI has expressed concern the war could rouse the country’s Islamic fundamentalist movement.

Three Saudis were arrested in Casablanca last year for leading an al Qaida plot to attack British and US warships in the Straits of Gibraltar. The three were given 10-year prison sentences in February by a Moroccan court.

The Saudis – Zouhair Hilal Tabiti, 26, Hilal Jaber El-Assiri, 31, and Abdellah Msafer El Ghamidi, 22 – are also accused of having planned to blow up a cfe in Marrakech, a major tourist destination, and attack tourist buses in Morocco.

All three Saudis admitted under interrogation that they had been trained in the use of weapons and explosives at al Qaida camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

US counterterrorism officials in Washington yesterday warned of a co-ordinated effort by Osama bin Laden’s network to hit lightly defended targets worldwide, citing the Saudi bombings as well as threats in Africa and Asia.

British and US authorities had warned of threats in East Africa, particularly Kenya, and in south east Asia, particularly Malaysia. US officials also received an unconfirmed report that a possible terrorist attack may occur in the western Saudi city of Jiddah.

Al Qaida has suffered serious blows in recent months, including the capture of alleged September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But senior al Qaida leaders were thought to be hiding in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, US officials said.

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