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Qaeda denies involvement in Morocco cafe bomb attack

Spanish investigators work at the scene of an explosion at Argana cafe in Marrakesh's Jamaa el-Fnaa square April 29, 2011. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

RABAT (Reuters) - Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) denied Saturday it was involved in a bomb attack on a cafe in Marrakesh last week that killed 17 people including eight French nationals.

Police in Morocco arrested three people Thursday for the April 28 attack and said the chief suspect was “loyal” to al Qaeda. A Swiss woman died of her injuries Friday, Swiss authorities said, bringing the total killed in the attack to 17.

AQIM said it was not behind the killings but urged Moroccan Muslims “to liberate their oppressed, jailed brothers and to topple the criminal regime,” in a presumed reference to King Mohammed and his government.

“We deny involvement in the bombing and assure that we have nothing to do with it, neither up close nor from afar,” said a statement carried by the Nouakchott Info Agency in Mauritania.

“Although hitting Jews and Crusaders and targeting their interests are among our priorities, which we urge Muslims to act upon and which we seeks to carry out, we choose the right moment and place,” said the statement.

AQIM is a pan-Maghreb jihadist organization that has taken responsibility for a number of attacks, particularly in Algeria. It has sent fighters to Iraq and vowed to attack Western targets, according to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations website.

The group, which previously called itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, says it is the local franchise of al Qaeda.

Moroccan authorities said the chief suspect disguised himself as a guitar-carrying hippie when he planted two bombs in a popular tourist cafe.

The bombs took six months to construct and were detonated by remote control using a cell phone, authorities said.

Reporting by Mark John in Dakar, Joseph Nasr in Berlin and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by Matthew Bigg; editing by Andrew Heavens