Bombers had targeted Casablanca landmarks: papers

RABAT Tue Mar 13, 2007 8:56am EDT

Members of a bomb squad inspect the scene of an explosion at an Internet cafe in Casablanca March 12, 2007. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Members of a bomb squad inspect the scene of an explosion at an Internet cafe in Casablanca March 12, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Rafael Marchante

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RABAT (Reuters) - A Moroccan who was blown up in a Casablanca Internet cafe was part of a gang of suicide bombers who planned to attack landmarks in Morocco's commercial capital, newspapers reported on Tuesday.

Abdelfattah Raydi, 23, blew up a belt of explosives he was carrying on Sunday night, killing himself and wounding four people after a tussle with the owner of the Web cafe in a suburb that is home to Casablanca's largest slum.

"Five young men recruited by a man in the area of Hay Mohammedi were ready to carry out suicide bombings in Casablanca," said Annass daily, which is considered to be well-informed on security matters.

Assabah newspaper said the blast was accidental. The real target had been Casablanca's police and paramilitary headquarters, restaurants and hotels, the paper said, citing unnamed security agencies.

A young man, identified by police as Youssef Khoudri and one of the wounded four, attempted to flee the scene of the explosion but was arrested four kilometres (2.5 miles) away. He too was wearing a belt of explosives, sources said.

Security officials questioned Khoudri at his hospital bed but he was too badly hurt to articulate his answers, security sources said. Newspapers printed pictures showing him seriously wounded on the right side of his face, his chest and left hand.

The blast, which tore Raydi's body to pieces, rekindled memories of attacks in 2003 in Casablanca that killed 32 people and the 13 suicide bombers who carried them out.

Morocco fears violence may spill over from neighboring Algeria after the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat renamed itself Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb.

JIHAD WEB SITE

Late on Monday the governor of the Casablanca region, Mokhtar Bekkali Kacemi, said the blast was accidental and the bombers "were probably getting ready to commit a criminal act".

Security officials said they were working on the assumption the bombers entered the Internet Cafe to get details online from their chief on where to discharge their bombs.

Al Massaa newspaper quoted high school pupil Mohamed Youbi Benabed, who was in the Internet Cafe when the two suspected bombers were there consulting a Jihadist Web site, as saying:

"The two men begged the Internet cafe owner to let them go but he refused and shut the door to prevent them leaving and began dialing the police number. Suddenly one of the two men blew himself and the door open". Benabed was unharmed.

Assabah said the two men's suspected chief was arrested on Sunday in Settat, outside Casablanca. Al Massaa said it believed the arrested man replaced Saad Houssaini, 38, the suspected chief of the military wing of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG) who was arrested by police last week.

Security officials declined to comment on the newspaper reports due to the sensitivity of the continuing investigation.

Analysts said the chain of events leading up to explosion smacked more of accident than design. "Amateurism was a hallmark of this incident," said Mohamed Tozy, political science professor at Hassan II university in Casablanca.

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